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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

The Intemperance And Profanity Of General St. Clair's Army

Dallas Bogan on 17 August 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Judge John Cleves Symmes has been mentioned at times in recent articles. He was the leader in the association of twenty- four men who contracted with the Continental Congress for the purchase of the lands between the Miamis.
A letter was written, dated January 12, 1792, by Symmes in reference to the immorality of the remainder of General Arthur St. Clair's army after the devastating defeat by the Indians.
St. Clair's defeat was the most severe disaster an army of white men ever suffered against the Indians. The army was completely surrounded at night and at daybreak a fight of four hours resulted in a total triumph for the Indians. The loss for the white men was given at 894, all within the area of ten acres. The remainder scattered in total confusion.
Symmes expresses in his letter of "the dreadful misfortunes attending the last summer's operations." Symmes's management or his mismanagement of the land procurement, or perhaps St. Clair's defeat, can possibly be blamed for the delay of development of the Miami lands. He says:
"I found the Miami settlements in the greatest disorder arising from dismay at the late defeat. Many families had fled into Kentucky before I arrived. I had the address to dissuade many others from following them. We have lost from the purchase on this occasion about twenty families in all, tho but one from North Bend is gone; many more were on tiptoe to be going, and it is with difficulty that I have retained them. I hope their fears are pretty well over for the present and are in some measure reconciled to stay, but should the Indians this winter or spring make a breach upon any one of the villages in the purchase, I fear that all the inhabitants of the other villages will fly for safety into Kentucky and leave the purchase once more a desert."
The letter tells of the intemperance and profanity of St. Clair's army. The nature of his army consisted of mere boys and the rest were of an incapable character.
Judge Symmes was disturbed by the wickedness, intemperance and profanity of both "officers and men." He says:
"It is also to be feared that the impiety of our troops may not be considered as the most remote cause of our misfortunes. If it be true, as our religion teaches, that the great Governor of the universe is in fact the God of armies, and really inspects into the conduct of men and is himself of immaculate holiness, and I own myself so much of a fanatic as to believe that he is, how can we expect his smiles on our arms, when the most horrid blasphemies, drunkenness and lewdness marks the character of too many of our troops; there are indeed very few exceptions. I wish these vices were only to be found among the private men, but there are too many officers, whom one would suppose from their stations, possessed of some ideas of decency in their language, good manners and morality, but who in fact are the profanest wretches I ever heard with a tongue."
William Henry Harrison was one of the few officers in the wars against the Indians who did not become intemperate. Harrison left college in Virginia and was appointed an ensign in the army before he was nineteen. He was ordered to join his regiment at Ft. Washington.
He arrived at Cincinnati just after the remainder of St. Clair's bedraggled army had returned. He says their clothing was reduced to rags and their appearance was one of many sufferings.
Cincinnati at this time was considered a small village with only about 25 or 30 log cabins and the provisions were considered inadequate as compared to today's standards. Meat was the only commodity in which the Kentuckians could supply. Harrison says:
"There appeared one means of gratification of which the discharged soldiers eagerly availed themselves. The inhabitants, as well as the settlers, appeared to have an abundant supply of whiskey, for which the wretched victims exchanged the remnants of their scanty pay, at that $3 per month. I certainly saw more drunken men in the forty-eight hours succeeding my arrival at Cincinnati than I had in all my previous life."
Harrison was advised by a friend of his fathers to deliberate over the decision to enter army life. The friend cautioned against the exposure of the life of a youngster in relation to the surroundings. He stated that the opportunities to distinguish himself were very slim.
Young Harrison ignored the environment and a devotion to reading and studying allowed him to withstand the temptations to intemperance in spite of the constant examples set before him.
Judge Jacob Burnet arrived in Cincinnati in 1796. He stated that army life consisted of idleness, drinking and gambling to a greater extent than at any subsequent period. He stressed that in the leisure hours, the bottle, the dice-box and the card table were resorted to. He also says that most of General Wayne's army was adept to hard drinking.

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This page created 17 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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