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Military History - November 2009 - Letters From Readers

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: September 01, 2009 
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'What attracted me to the battle of Fallen Timbers was the performance of General Wayne himself, who literally created a victorious army out of nothing after the idiots who presided over the last years of the Continental Congress disbanded the Continental Army of the Revolution and lost the hard lessons General Washington and his officers had learned'

Sandburg on Battlescapes
I was intrigued by the "Battlescapes" article in the Aug/Sept issue, particularly by the photograph of the bucolic scene where the Battle of the Somme had taken place. My uncle, for whom I was named, lost his life in such an area while serving in the British army in the Great War. The American poet Carl Sandburg has captured the healing effect of nature on battle-scarred locations in his poem "Grass."

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass.
Let me work.

Your photographs certainly bear out the wisdom of Sandburg's words.

Arthur Wilson
Amity, Pa.

Broken Alliances
Your article "Fallen Timbers, Broken Alliance," by Thomas Fleming [Aug/Sept 2009], is a typical treatment given native Americans. A single paragraph of Fleming's writing is a signal example:

The result of Britain's perfidy was a series of brutal frontier massacres in which Indian war parties slaughtered an estimated 1,500 American men, women and children. Settlers in Kentucky screamed for vengeance and attacked even those tribes trying to remain at peace. Washington sent envoys to negotiate the amicable cession of some of the Indians' lands, but the Miamis, Shawnees and other warlike tribes evaded or violated the agreements.

Had the Americans stayed on their side of the Appalachians and not made treaties that literally ripped Indian lands away from the natives, neither side would have suffered fighting. The Algonquin tribes were only warlike in the eyes of the Americans. George Washington and his Ohio Company were in the business of usurping Indian lands in the Appalachian basin long before the Revolution. Fleming's "Battle of the Wabash" should properly be labeled St. Clair's Defeat by authors (note Robert V. Van Trees' Banks of the Wabash), and the leader of the Indian troops was Blue Jacket. John Sugden, author of Blue Jacket: Warrior of the Shawnees, forcefully places Blue Jacket, rather than Little Turtle, in the van during this period. George Ash, a captive who fought in St. Clair's Defeat, called the force leader "General Blue Jacket" and recalls the leader's magnificent speech the night the Indians were in camp waiting to advance on Maj. Gen. St. Clair on Nov. 4, 1791.

Fleming characterizes Blue Jacket as having a penchant for fancy clothes and a hatred for white men. If you were a general, you would wear fancy clothes. He and his youngest child, George Blue Jacket, were officers in the British Indian Service, and his accouterments were bestowed on him by the British Empire. As to being a white hater, nothing supports this. He was a killer, to be sure, giving those who took away his heritage something to remember him by.

The Battle of Fallen Timbers cleared the way for western movement of the new country. The Indians were boxed in the Northwest Territory even before Fallen Timbers. Wayne was fully aware of the vast dissension between and within Algonquin tribes and took advantage of it. The Shawnees began splitting by 1787, many going to southeast Missouri to take advantage of Spanish land grants. Even in Ohio, warring and peace changed Shawnee lives. Even Blue Jacket and his half-brother were worlds apart. Wayne and Blue Jacket became close friends, and when "Mad Anthony" died, Blue Jacket moved his family to the Detroit River area, where he was a successful farmer, trader and whiskey peddler. Sugden paints Blue Jacket as a lifelong Indian diplomat.

G. Carlyle Hinshaw
Windber, Pa.

Thomas Fleming responds: Hinshaw states his point of view plainly and candidly. He thinks whites should have stayed on "their side of the Appalachians." Then there would have been no Indian wars in the Northwest. Why not go back to the beginning and say, "If Christopher Columbus had stayed in Italy or Spain, and all the whites in Europe imitated his example, there would have been no collision with native Americans." We are dealing with a vast movement of peoples from one continent to another, and the clash of two totally different ways of life. It's a free country, and anyone can wish it never happened, but is there any point to such thinking?

Hinshaw goes on to admit the Indian leader, Blue Jacket, was an officer in the British Indian Service. In fact, the British were deeply involved in arming and encouraging the tribes to resist the American movement west. This was not done out of any even faintly sympathetic feelings of the sort that stir Hinshaw. No one had a lower regard for "barbarians"—the usual British term for native Americans—and virtually every other people they exploited. I speak from the viewpoint of an Irish-American who has written extensively of the 400 years of British slaughter and oppression in Ireland.

Blue Jacket and his followers were allies of America's most determined and vicious enemy. The Americans were fighting for land they believed they had won in the peace treaty that ended the Revolution. The native Americans picked the wrong side in the Revolution, and they repeated the performance in the war that ended with General Anthony Wayne's victory at Fallen Timbers. History is full of such tragic choices. My ancestors, the Flemings, were once one of the wealthiest families in Ireland. They chose the wrong side in the 1690 Battle of the Boyne and lost everything.

What attracted me to the battle of Fallen Timbers was the performance of General Wayne himself, who literally created a victorious army out of nothing after the idiots who presided over the last years of the Continental Congress disbanded the Continental Army of the Revolution and lost the hard lessons General Washington and his officers had learned. It is a story about the realities of warfare I think Americans should ponder.

Bluffing
I was mildly surprised that in your Aug/Sept item about Ball's Bluff [What We Learned, by Dana Shoaf] you failed to mention that [future Supreme Court justice] Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was seriously wounded there.

Ed Paul
Ada, Mich.

Editor's note: In 1861 Holmes, then a 20-year-old lieutenant with the 20th Massachusetts Volunteers, survived a near fatal chest wound at Ball's Bluff.

Colonel Edward Baker was a U.S. senator from Oregon, not California. He served from 1859 (statehood) until his death at Ball's Bluff in 1861. He raised a volunteer regiment in California to fight for the Union.

Jeffrey L. Anderson
Tigard, Ore.

Driving Black Jack
In his article "America's Top WWI Ace" (Valor, Aug/Sept), David T. Zabecki states that Captain Eddie Rickenbacker served briefly as General John J. Pershing's driver. This myth needs to be put to rest.

In his autobiography, Rickenbacker, Captain Eddie states unequivocally: "Books on aviation and World War I persist to this day in identifying me as Black Jack's chauffeur. The truth is that I never did drive for the general."

Walter G. Hilsabeck
Springfield, Va.



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