George Rogers Clark National Historical Park

Location: Vincennes, Indiana

Webpage: National Park

General Description: George Rogers Clark was the older brother (18 years) of William Clark famous for the Lewis and Clark expedition.  While not ultimately as famous as his younger brother, George Rogers was a Revolutionary War hero and was responsible for securing the territories that would become the states of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and some of Minnesota.  At the time of the Revolutionary War, Ohio and Kentucky were the western extent of the Colonial settlements.  With the western expansion, the Indian tribes in the region were being forced out of their homelands and there was a lot of resistance to this.  Although never unified, the warrior from these many tribes greatly outnumbered the settlers.  Following the French and Indian War, many of these tribes shifted their alliances from the French to the British to oppose further settlements of their lands.  As the Revolutionary War began in 1775, the British regulars numbered about 8,000 scattered across North America. Thus, Lt. Gov. Henry Hamilton, who commanded Fort Detroit, began recruiting the Indians and supplying them with guns and ammunition to attack the rebellious colonists in Kentucky.  By 1777, known as the”Bloody 7s” these attacks were devastating the western settlements and forts.  George Rogers Clark raised a citizen militia to fight back with ferocious vengeance.  He conceived of a daring plan to raise a small force to take the war to the British in Fort Detroit and approached Virginia Governor Patrick Henry for support.  This plan began with turning the French, that made up most of the European population in the region, against the British on the basis that France had signed a treaty with the Colonists in 1777.  He hoped to capture the forts of Cahokia and Kaskaskia on the Mississippi and Vincennes (Fort Sackville) on the Wabash.  Once these were taken from the British he would be free to threaten Fort Detroit.  In May of 1778, he left western Pennsylvania with 150 volunteers floating down the Ohio River to Corn Island.  There he met with another 75 Kentucky militia to train.  While this was a much smaller force then he had hoped for, he made the most of the situation using the next couple of months to train his men who were now trapped on the island.  The numbers may be small, but these were all elite fighters and totally committed top the revolution.  In July, they traveled 120 miles overland to take both Kaskaskia and Cahokai without firing a shot.  In both cases he convinced the French population to switch sides in the conflict and even convinced most of the local Indian tribes to become neutral, at least temporarily.  Once again, in Vincennes, with the assistance of Kaskaskia’s Roman Catholic Father Pierre Gibault, convinced the residents and militia to switch their allegiance.  However, in October when Hamilton learned of the situation, the British headed south from Fort Detroit and easily recaptured Fort Sackville in Vincennes in December, since most of the patriots had returned to Kaskaskia for the winter.  Under the belief that the fighting was over for the winter, Hamilton dismissed most of the Indian allies and French militia, leaving only a small force of about 200 soldiers to man Fort Sackville.  His plans were to reform in the spring to continue the conflict.  However, George saw an opportunity to attack Fort Sackville while it was at its weakest during the winter.  So in February he, along with 170 volunteers marched 160 miles to Vincennes.  The weather that winter was warmer then normal, which could have been an advantage except it melted the heavy snows that had fallen earlier in the year, creating a 4 mile wide swamp along the Wabash River.  At times, the men had to slog through chest deep water in freezing temperatures with no food or other supplies.  However, morale remained high and when they finally reached Vincennes after learly two weeks, they found the locals willing to provide them with dry powder and food.  On February 23, 1778, they surrounded Fort Sackville constructing an entrenchment within 200 yards of the walls.  Taking advantage of a slight elevation that concealed the men, he had them waving numerous flags making it appear that there was a force of at least 1,000 men.  His sharpshooters surrounded the fort, firing through the portholes whenever they raised them to fire their cannon, and he had a small force begin to dig a tunnel from the river under the walls.  In addition, Clark’s men met and captured a small force of Indians returning to the fort and executed four of them in sight of the fort to demonstrate their resolve.  All of this convinced Hamilton that he was facing an overwhelming force and surrendered the fort on February 25 to a much smaller force then he believed he was facing.  Hamilton was taken prisoner and sent east as a prisoner of war.   While George Rogers Clark was never able to attack the much stronger Fort Detroit during the Revolutionary War, he continued to fight back against the Indian raids, thus securing American claims to the region.  Many believe, that without his efforts and successes, the Treaty of Paris which formally ended the Revolutionary War would have named the Ohio River as the northern boundary in the west instead of the Great Lakes.  His contribution as a lesser known Revolutionary War hero was instrumental in forming the US as we know it today.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) The George Rogers Clark National Historical Park is located on the remains of Fort Sackville along the Wabash River within the environs of Vincennes.  Thus it is a small park in area, consisting of a Visitors Center, and large marble memorial.  The Visitors Center is itself very modest in size and structure with just a few exhibits about George Rogers Clark and the frontier.  However, they do have an excellent 30 minute movie about Clark and the Revolutionary War campaign in 1778-9.

VisitorCenter

2) The George Rogers Clark Memorial is an impressive structure towering over the banks of the Wabash River.  Within the memorial are 7 huge painted murals covering the prelude to the war, the siege of Vincennes, and the aftermath and importance of the Indiana Territory.