Planks for the platforms, gates, and other works connected with the forts and barracks were sawed by the men with a whip-saw. Barracks were them erected inside the fort for the accommodation of the officers, and for one hundred men. Two store-houses, a guard-room, a magazine, and some other necessary buildings were erected. The magazine stood at the southeast of the fort, near where the United Presbyterian Church now stands. It was built of large, squared timber, the sides coming close together, and covered with a hipped roof. It was used as a jail for many years after the organization of Butler County. The officers’ mess-room stood near where the rear portion of the Universalist Church is at present. It was a frame building about forty feet long by twenty wide, one story high, weatherboarded with rough plank, and set upon wooden blocks, three feet high. This building was afterwards used as a court-house for many years after the organization of the county.
On the thirtieth day of September, 1791, the fort being nearly completed, so far, at least, as to be in a condition to receive a garrison, two pieces of artillery were placed in it, on the platform; a salute was fired, and it was named Fort Hamilton, in honor of General Alexander HAMILTON, then Secretary of the Treasury. General Richard BUTLER, second in command, and Captain DENNY, aid-de-camp to General ST. CLAIR, joined the army at Fort Hamilton on the 27th of September. The whole army was mustered and inspected at Fort Hamilton by Colonel MENTGEZ, inspector of the army. The whole force numbered two thousand three hundred non-commissioned officers and privates fit for duty. While they lay at Hamilton fifty-seven forces were stolen by the Indians in one drove, and, on the 3d of October, the night before the army marched, twenty-one men deserted. A detachment of troops was made, to be left in garrison at Fort Hamilton, which was committed to the command of Captain John ARMSTRONG., General ST.CLAIR issued an order directing the manner in which the army was to march, to encamp, and form in order of battle, under various circumstances. The order of march was that the army should be preceded by a small party of riflemen with the surveyor to mark the course of the road; then were to follow the road-cutters, with a party to cover them; then the advanced guard, and after them the army in two columns, with one piece of artillery in front, one in the center, and one in the rear of each column. In the space between the two columns was to march the remaining artillery, designed for the forts that should be erected; then the horses with the tents and provisions, and then the cattle with their proper guard, who were to remove them in case of the enemy appearing. Beyond the columns, at a distance of about one hundred yards, was to march the cavalry in file, and beyond them, at the same distance, a party of riflemen and scouts, for escorts, and then to follow the rear guard at a proper distance. On the 3d of October, General St. Clair returned to Fort Washington to organize some militia which had arrived from Kentucky. On the morning of the 4th, the army was put in motion, and marched at eight o’ clock, led by General Butler. They crossed the river at the ford opposite the lower part of Hamilton, and marched a mile and a half to Two Mile Creek, and encamped on the land since owned by Mr. McCLELLAN. Generals Butler thought fit to change the order to march laid down by General St. Clair so as to march the troops in one line, which required the opening of a road forty feet wide. There was no person with the army who had ever been through the country before to act as a guide, consequently the geography and topography of the country were utterly unknown to the army. John S. GANO was the surveyor who marked the line of the road according to a course taken by compass.
The next day, October 5th, they marched over the hill to Four Mile Creek, and encamped in the bottom, where the Fearnot mill has since been built. October 6th, the army marched to Seven Mile Creek, and encamped on the east side of the creek, on lands since belonging to Robert LYLE, in the southeast corner of section 24, Milford Township. They gave those streams which they crossed names corresponding with the distance measured from Fort Hamilton to the place where they crossed them.
The army continued their march north, near the eastern line of what is now Milford Township. On the 8th, General St. Clair came up with them. General Butler, the next morning, made an apology to General St. Clair for having changed the order to march and substituting another, giving his reasons for doing so. The reasons assigned did not appear satisfactory to General St. Clair, because he thought that the line of battle could not so easily be formed from the order of march instituted as from the original one; that the artillery would have a considerable distance to march to their proper places, and that the labor of the troops was greatly increased by it; for that it was much easier to open three roads, ten or twelve feet wide each, if necessary, than one forty feet wide, the quantity of big timber to be cut down increased in a great proportion as the width of the road increased. But as it had been done, the army might continue to march in the same order for some days, as it might have an ill-effect if the two chief officers should be altering the dispositions made by each other; but that as they advanced into the country, where the enemy was likely to be met with, the original order of march should be resumed.
On the 13th of October, having advanced forty-four miles from Fort Hamilton, and a proper place presenting itself for another post, the army halted, and encamped in two lines, the artillery and cavalry being divided upon the flanks,and the riflemen without them at right angles. They then began the creation of a new post, which was called Fort Jefferson. This was in the present county of Darke, six miles from Greenville, the county seat. The work was completed on the 24th of October.
The army again took up its march, proceeded one day from Fort Jefferson, and encamped one might. Although St. Clair had observed ordinary caution, his troops were very new, and the surprise which was meditated by the savages proved completely successful. They attacked the whites in force at about sunrise on the morning of the 4th of November, and easily succeeded in their attempt. The militia were slaughtered. Many fled across the country, and either died of their wounds or were picked up by the enemy, and the remainder retreated in disorder to Forts Jefferson and Hamilton. General St. Clair, although suffering severely from the gout, which prevented his walking, fought bravely; two horses were shot under him, and a third been killed he must inevitably have been left as a prisoner. General Butler, after whom this county is named, was mortally wounded, and soon after died. Every thing was in the greatest confusion, and no exact statement of the loss was ever made. The indignation of Washington, on receiving the news of the defeat, was great. He had especially warned St. Clair against surprise, and yet the general had fallen into a trap. After the close of the campaign, however, a committee of Congress investigated the causes of defeat, and exonerated the unhappy commander. His troops were undisciplined; they were largely without clothing, their food supply was short, and their arms were bad. He was a victim of causes beyond his control.
The remains of the army encamped this night at Seven Mile Creek, within about seven miles of Fort Hamilton, where they arrived about noon on the 6th of November, and remained during the next day, taking care of the wounded, and resting and recruiting themselves after the fatigue and hardships they had endured.
On their arrival at Fort Hamilton it was ascertained that Major Thomas BUTLER, who was wounded, had not come in. A party from the garrison was immediately dispatched for the purpose of bringing him on, and to afford relief to any who might have been left on the road unable to proceed. Major Butler came in the next day.
Early on the morning of the 8th the remainder of the army set out, and reached Fort Washington (now Cincinnati) in the evening.
As is said above, a detachment of troops was detailed and placed in garrison at Fort Hamilton before the army set out, which was committed to the command of Captain John Armstrong, who continued in command until the Spring of 1793. Most of the fortifications and interior buildings at this place were erected under his superintendence; and when the remains of the army returned, after the disastrous defeat, he took charge of the wounded and provided for them until they were able to go forward to Fort Washington. Of his services at this post the letters of General St. Clair are highly complimented.
Captain Armstrong was a well-trained soldier, a first rate woodsman, and familiarly conversant with the Indian habits. At an early age he had entered the service in the Revolutionary army as a private soldier, but was immediately made a sergeant, and, on the 11th of September, 1777, was commissioned as an ensign, in which capacity he served until the close of the war in 1783. On the disbanding of the army he was continued in the service. He was commandant at Wyoming in 1784. He was an officer in the service at Fort Pitt in the years 1785 and 1786, and from the years 1786 to 1790 he was stationed at Fort Finney, at the Falls of the Ohio, which was situated on the Indian bank (at the lower end of what is now known as the old town of Jeffersonville).
In September, 1789, about six years after the close of the war of the Revolution (having continued uninterruptedly in service), he received the appointment of a lieutenant, on the nomination of President Washington, which appointment was confirmed by the Senate in June, 1790; and, having joined the army under the command of General Josiah HARMER at Fort Washington, marched against the Indians on the 30th of September, 1790, during which campaign he was in the action fought under the command of Colonel HARDIN on the 19th of October, west of the Miami village, in what is now the State of Indiana, and a few miles west of where Fort Wayne was afterwards built, suffering severely. The militia having been thrown into disorder, suddenly retreated, leaving Lieutenant Armstrong to contend at the head of a decidedly unequal force. The Indians on this occasion gained a complete victory, having in the whole near one hundred men. Lieutenant Armstrong in this engagement lost one sergeant and twenty-one men out of thirty of his command.
Lieutenant Armstrong and most of his men stood their ground, anticipating a rally of the militia, in which they were disappointed, when the lieutenant, after shooting an Indian in the act of scalping the last man he had on the field, threw himself into the grass between a large oak stump and a log which had been blown down, where he remained about three hours in daylight. At night the Indians commenced their war-dance, within gun-shot of where he lay. Desiring to sell his life as dearly as possible, he at one time thought of trying to shoot a chief, whom he could distinguish by his dress and trinkets in the light of the fires. Taking his watch and compass from their fobs, he buried them by the side of the log where he lay, saying to himself, “Some honest fellow tilling the ground, many years hence, may find them, and these rascals sha’n’t have them.” Finding , however, great uncertainty in drawing a bead by cloudy moonlight and that the fires at the dance, and thinking it possible that he might escape, in which case which watch and compass would be useful to him, he dug them up, and replaced them in his fobs. Soon after, he was satisfied that there were Indians near him, and was conscious that they would prefer taking him prisoner to shooting him. Should he cock his gun, and on attempting to escape, be discovered, he could wheel and shoot before the Indians would attempt to shoot. He thereupon cocked his rifle; the Indians near him began to mimic ground-squirrels and perwink. The lieutenant cautiously moved, and on the third step was so distinctly discovered by the Indians that the savage yell was given, when everything was instantly silent at the dance. Armstrong then took to his heels, springing the grass as far as practicable to prevent tracking. After running a short distance he discovered a pond of water, into which he immediately jumped, thinking there would be no track left there. Seating himself on a tussock of grass, with his gun on his shoulder and the water round his waist, he had not been in the pond for five minutes when the whole troop if Indians, foot and horse, were around the pond, hurrahing for him. Using his own expression, “Such yells I never heard. I suppose the Indians thought I was a wounded man, that their yells would scare me, and I would run, and they could catch me; but I thought to myself, I would see them damned first. The Indians continued their hunt for several hours, until the moon went down, when they retired to their fires. The ice was frozen to my clothes, and I was very much benumbed. I extricated myself from the pond, broke some sticks, and rubbed my thighs and legs, to circulate the blood, and, with some difficulty at first, slowly made my way through the bush. Believing that the Indians would be traveling between their own and the American camp, I went at right angles from the trace, about two miles, to a piece of rising ground. Thinking to myself, it is a cold night, if there are any Indians here, they will have fire; if I can’t see their fire, they can’t see mine, and a fire is necessary for me, I went into a ravine where a large tree had been blown up by the roots, kindled a fire, dried myself, and laid down and took a nap of sleep; in the morning, threw my fire in a puddle of water, and started for camp.”
Lieutenant Armstrong being a good woodsman and well acquainted with Indian habits, when he came to open woods, passed round them; in wet ground, walked on logs, and occasionally stepped backwards, to prevent being tracked. About half way from the battle-ground to the American camp, he discovered three Indians coming along the path meeting him; he squatted in the hazel bushes, about twenty steps from the trace, and the Indians passed without discovering him. Mr. Armstrong said: “I never so much wished for two guns in my life. I felt perfectly cool; could have taken the eye out of either if them, and with the two guns should have killed two of them, and the other rascal would have run away, but with one gun thought it best not to attack, as the odds would be against me as three to one.”
Reaching the vicinity of the ground where he had left the main army the day before, the day being now far spent, he expected soon to meet with those he had left there, but was suddenly arrested in his lonely march by the commencement of heavy battle, as he supposed, at the encampment. Hesitating for a moment, and then cautiously moving to a position from which he could overlook the camp, instead of seeing there his associates in arms, from whom he had then been separated two days, a different scene was presented. The savages had full possession of the American camp-ground. “Is it possible,” said he, “that the main army has been cut off?” Having been two days without eating a mouthful, except the breakfast taken early in the morning of his leaving camp, he began to reflect what should be his future course.
Much exhausted from fatigue, without food, alone in the wilderness, far from any settlements, and surrounded by savages, the probability of his escape was indeed slight, but duty to himself and country soon determined him upon the attempt. At this moment the sound of a cannon attracted his attention. He knew it was a signal for the lost men to come in, and taking a circle, passed in the direction from whence the sound came, and arrived safe at the camp. The army had changed position from the time he had left, to a point two miles lower down the creek, which presented ground more favorable for encampment, The dusk of the evening had arrived when he got to camp, greatly to the surprise of his acquaintances, who had numbered him with the men who had fought their last fight.
Armstrong, in speaking of this engagement, and the heavy loss in his command, always evinced much feeling, saying: “The men of my command were as brave as ever lived; I could have marched to the mouth of a cannon without their flinching.” Armstrong continued to hold the rank of lieutenant until March, 1791, when he was promoted to a captaincy, in which capacity he served until the Spring of 1793, when he resigned and left the army.
When General Anthony WAYNE with his army came to the West, he wrote a letter to Captain Armstrong, dated “Camp Hobson’s-choice, May 12, 1793” (now the west part of Cincinnati), in which, referring to his resignation, he stated: “I sincerely lament the loss of an officer of your known bravery and experience, especially at this crisis, when we are really in want of many such,” and adds: “Could you, or would you, undertake to raise a corps of mounted volunteers, for a given period, whose pay and emoluments will be as follows: viz.: the non-commissioned officers, one dollar per diem, and the privates seventy-five cents per diem- each person finding his own horse, arms, and accoutrements, at his own risk- and seventy-five cents per diem in lieu of rations and forage; provided he furnishes himself therewith? The President was by law authorized to appoint the officers. That power he has vested in me; their pay and other emoluments (exclusive of fifty cents per diem for the use and risk of their horses) will be the same as that of officers of corresponding rank in the legion.” Having then acquired a family, and his constitution failing from hardships and exposure in the service of his country for a period of seventeen years, Mr. Armstrong declined service in this campaign. Soon after his resignation, Mr. Armstrong received the commission of a colonel of the militia of the Territory, and married a daughter of Judge William GOFORTH, of Columbia, at the mouth of the Little Miami River, in Hamilton County, where he settled and resided until the Spring of the year 1814. He was many years a magistrate at Columbia, and also served as one of the judges of the court of Hamilton County. He was appointed treasurer of the Northwestern Territory. His first commission as treasurer is dated to the same office was dated the fourteenth day of December, 1799.
He lived at Columbia from 1793 to Spring of 1814, when he returned to his farm, opposite the Grassy Flats, in Clark County, State of Indiana, and died there on the fourth day of February, 1816, after a confinement of five years and twenty-four days, during all which time he was unable to walk unless supported by persons on either side of him. His remains were interred on that farm, where a monument is placed to mark his resting-place.
General St. Clair resigned the office of major-general on the 7th of January, 1792, and James WILKINSON, lieutenant-colonel of the Second Regiment of the United States Army, succeeded to the command of Fort Washington and the dependencies.
We shall here introduce some of the correspondence which took place between the commandant at Fort Hamilton and the commandant at Fort Washington, relative to the completion of the defenses of the fort, and tending to give an insight into the state and condition of affairs in and about the fort and vicinity at the time.
On the 5th of February, 1792, Colonel Wilkinson gave orders to Captain Armstrong, at Fort Hamilton, to have a second flat or boat built at that place, to facilitate the transportation of horses, men, and provisions across the river. It is as follows:
“John Armstrong, Esq. “Captain commandant Fort Hamilton: “Sir,- The public service requires that a public flat or boat, for the transportation of horses, be built with the utmost dispatch at this port to facilitate the passage of the river. You will, therefore, be pleased to take the necessary measures with your usual promptitude, and believe me, with respect and attachment, sir, “Your most obedient humble servant, “J. Wilkinson, "Lieut. Col. Commandant Second U.S. Regiment, commanding Fort Washington and dependencies. “Fort Hamilton, February 5, 1792.”
Colonel Wilkinson came to the fort on the 15th of March, and at ten o’clock the next day left. Captain Armstrong thereupon wrote to General St. Clair:
“Fort Hamilton, March 17, 1792. “Dear General,- Colonel Wilkinson left his place at ten o’clock yesterday, with about two hundred men, with the intention of establishing an intermediate post between this and Fort Jefferson, now under the command of Captain Strong. On the 15th, my runners returned from the place appointed for the exchange of letters, and, having waited two hours after the appointed time of meeting, returned without any information from Jefferson. As Captain Strong is a punctual officer, some accident must have happened to his express. My young men discovered fresh tracks of horses in several places on the road, as many as five in a body; the enemy must, therefore, be watching the trace, and perhaps be concerting a plan of attack on our advanced posts. A small party leave this garrison every morning before day, and reconnoiters the neighboring woods. They have not, as yet, discovered any signs of Indians. The garrison is now in a perfect state of defense, and for its greater safety I have commenced sinking a well. I beg leave also to observe that due attention is paid to the exercise and discipline of the men, etc. . . . . . “I hope, madam, this letter, although out of the line of etiquette, will not give offense. Unacquainted with the etiquette of addressing a lady, I have hopes the language of my profession will not be offensive to the companion of a brother officer. Be pleased, therefore, madam, to accept the thanks of my family, alias the mess, for your polite attention in sending us garden seeds, etc., and, should we be honored by a visit from the donor, the flowers shall be taught to smile at her approach and droop as she retires. We beg you to accept in return a few venison hams, which will be delivered you by Mr. HARTSHORN. They will require a little more pickle and some niter. John Armstrong.”
Colonel Wilkinson left Fort Hamilton with the intention of establishing an intermediate post between that and Fort Jefferson, then under the command of Captain STRONG. And on the 19th March he wrote to Captain Armstrong from camp twenty-five miles in advance of Fort Hamilton, that he had built a fort. This was about half a mile west of where the town of Eaton, in Preble County, now is, and was named Fort St. Clair. He also ordered as follows:
“John Armstrong, Esq., “Captain commandant Fort Hamilton: “Dear Sir,- Please forward the inclosed express, and if Mr. ELLIOT gives you notice that his boats are ascending the Miami, you will detach a sergeant and twelve men to meet them at Dunlap’s Station, and escort them to the post under your command. Every thing is safe here, and Charlie may kiss my foot. I built upon a square of one hundred and twenty feet a four-sided polygon, with regular bastions. The bastions will be completed in two hours. The work substantial and rather handsome. The area, covered yesterday morning by immense oaks, poplars, and beeches, is now clear for parade. Adieu. “I am your most obedient servant, “J. Wilkinson.”
It was the practice to take provisions and stores from Fort Washington to Fort Hamilton by water in keel-boats that descended the Ohio River to the mouth of the Miami, and up the stream to Fort Hamilton, which was considered the easiest and safest route, but the greater portion was transported by land on pack-horse.
In a letter of Colonel Wilkinson to Captain Armstrong, dated Fort Washington, March 26, 1792, he directs him that Pack-horse Masters McCLELLAN and TATE are to load at Fort Hamilton, and proceed to Fort St. Clair, accompanied by an escort, for the protection of the brigade, of a subaltern officer, four non-commissioned officers, and thirty men, and as this movement was deemed to be critical, the officer was directed to be extremely cautious. Captain Armstrong was also instructed to construct storehouses, either within the fortress, or immediately under its protection, for the reception of one thousand barrels of provisions.
Captain Armstrong, in his letter of the 26th of April, 1792, to Colonel Wilkinson, says:
“Fort Hamilton, April 26, 1792. “Dear General,- An express is this moment arrived from Fort Jefferson. The dispatches accompanying this will give you the news of that place. I have only to add, although the enemy are in the neighborhood of this place, I have, as yet, evaded the execution of their designs, and that, with the assistance of Captain FORD’s horse, have, and will on to-morrow have, timber enough in the garrison to finish one of the buildings mentioned in my last. It will contain all the flour now exposed, and what is on board the boats now coming up. I wish they may arrive safe. The express did not touch at St. Clair. “I have the honor to be, with respect, your obedient servant, John Armstrong, “Captain First Regiment United States Army.”
Captain Armstrong writes to General Wilkinson:
“Fort Hamilton, 27th April, 1792. “Dear General,- My letter of last evening, sent by express carrying the dispatches from Fort Jefferson, I hope arrived safely. If the building ordered to be erected here should not be finished as soon as expected, permit me to observe the fault is not mine. Carpenters were sent forward without tools to work with, or the necessary means of hauling timber. Every exertion in my power has been called forth to complete the business in question. I expect one of the buildings will be finished early next week, which, when completed, will contain the provisions already sent forward. Additional ones must be made, and I dread the consequences, as my small command will not enable me to furnish a sufficient party to cover the workmen from the enemy, should they appear in force. When the oxen arrive I shall proceed to the completion of this business, and use all the industry and precaution in my power. I hope the steel carpenters’ and armorers’ tools will be sent forward, as without them your orders can not be carried into execution. You must be tired of the repeated applications made for them. What is become of my former express? I fear he did not reach you. I feel for the party under Major SHAUMBURGH. Should those Indians mentioned in Captain SHAY’s letter meet him, his party must be cut off. This is an important suggestion. I wish you might think proper to furnish two good woodsmen for this post, who might carry dispatches without confining themselves to the road. I have no such characters in my command.”
There are two references in the annexed letter of General Wilkinson which need explanation. The “God of War” refers to General KNOX, then Secretary of the War Department, who was deemed unfriendly to the settlement of the West, for private and mercenary reasons. There appears, however, to have been no foundation for these views. The “Gains” alluded to was General Edmund P. GAINES whose promotion from ensign to lieutenant it announces, and whose continuance in the army for nearly sixty years is without parallel in the United States’ service, and has few examples in European military registers. His widow is still living.
General J. Wilkinson to Captain Armstrong."Fort Washington, April 29th, 1792. “Dear Sir,- All your letters, except those by McDONALD, have come safe to my hand. I fear these have taken the back track, as we have not seen or heard of the man. Please forward me a duplicate of your letters by him. “You will find from the inclosed list that little Hodgdon, although always deficient, has not been so much so as you expect. The articles receipted for us by Shaumburgh were expressly for your garrison, and exclusive of those intended for Jefferson. The articles which remain unsupplied will be furnished by the next escort, as far as they can be procured, and you must write to Lieutenant Shaumburgh to return you the articles which he improperly carried forward, or such parts as may be handily conveyed by your express, viz: the chalk-lines, gimlets, stone, compass, saw, and chisel. You can not be too cautious, for I fear it will be impossible, with all your vigilance, to preserve every man’s hair a month longer. You have to combat an enterprising, subtle, persevering enemy, who, to gain an advantage, would think it no hardship to creep a mile upon his belly over a bed of thorns.