Tuesday, August 30, 2016

From Patriot to Desperado

Cave-In-Rock, Illinois

August 31, 1777, Samuel Mason, a Patriot captain in command of Fort Henry on the Ohio frontier, survives a devastating Indian attack.
The son of a distinguished Virginia family, Samuel Mason became a militia officer and was assigned to the western frontier post of Fort Henry in present-day West Virginia. In the summer of 1777, with the colonies fighting a war for independence, Mason feared attacks by the Indian allies of the British. He was proven correct on August 31, 1777, when a band of Native Americans from several eastern tribes attacked the fort.
The Indians initially fired only on several men who were outside the fort rounding up horses. Hearing the shots, Mason gathered 14 men and rode to their rescue; this was exactly what the warriors hoped he would do. They ambushed the party, killing all but Mason. Badly wounded, Mason escaped death by hiding behind a log. A second party that attempted to come to his rescue suffered the same fate as the first. All told, Mason lost 15 men, compared to only one fatality among the attackers.
Mason recovered from his wounds and continued to command Fort Henry for several years. Following the end of the war, though, he fell on hard times. Repeatedly accused of being a thief, he moved farther west into the lawless frontier of the young American nation.


By 1790's, Mason took to robbing travelers along the Natchez Trace in Tennessee, often with the assistance of his four sons. The law eventually ran them off for robbing people.


Mason then moved to the Henderson, Kentucky area - then known as Red Banks - the Commonwealth sent a constable to regulate his activities, but Mason and his gang ended up killing him. Once again a group of regulators ran him out of town. 
After this, he and his family and gang became river pirates on the Lower Ohio River, preying on boatmen who moved valuable goods up and down the river. Historical records place Mason at Cave-In-Rock, Illinois in 1797.

The 1962 film How the West Was Won featured Jimmy Stewart playing a mountain man going down the Ohio River. Along the way, they stopped in at Cave-In-Rock where Stewart meets a group of pirates. Their trick was to lure people in the cave then robbing and killing their victims. Walter Brennan's character, Alabama Colonel Hawkins, was based on a real pirate in the Lower Ohio River Valley: Samuel Mason.

By the early 1800's, Mason had become one of the most notorious desperadoes on the American frontier, a precursor to Jesse James, Cole Younger and later outlaws of the “Wild West.” In January 1803, Spanish authorities arrested Mason and his four sons and decided to turn them over to the Americans. En route to Natchez, Tennessee, Mason and his sons killed the commander of the boat and escaped.
Determined to apprehend Mason, the Americans upped the reward for his capture, dead or alive. The reward money soon proved too tempting for two members of Mason’s gang; in July 1803 they killed Mason, cut off his head and brought it into the Mississippi territorial offices to prove that they had earned the reward. The men were soon identified as members of Mason’s gang, however, and they were arrested and hanged.

Image result for Samuel Mason

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Heroine of the Revolution


Patriot heroine Margaret Corbin is wounded while defending a gun battery during the Battle of Ft. Washington , on upper Manhattan Island, November 16, 1776.
Painting by Don Troiani

Margaret Corbin was a woman who fought in the American Revolutionary War. On November 16, 1776, her husband, John Corbin was one of some 600 American soldiers defending Fort Washington in northern Manhattan from 4,000 attacking Hessian troops under British command. John Corbin was on the crew one of two cannons the defenders deployed. During an assault by the Hessians, John was killed, after witnessing his death, she immediately took his place at the cannon, continuing to fire until her arm, chest, and jaw were hit by enemy fire. The British ultimately won the Battle of Fort Washington, resulting in the surrender of Margaret and her comrades and the taking of the last American position in New York City. 
As the equivalent of a wounded soldier, Margaret was released by the British on parole. 
She later became the first woman in U.S. history to receive a pension from Congress for military service.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Morgan's Riflemen, the first generation snipers




"Morgan's Riflemen were an elite light infantry unit commanded by Daniel Morgan in the American Revolutionary War. They were equipped with what was then the cutting-edge rifle instead of muskets, allowing superior accuracy at an up to ten times the distance of the typical troops of the day.

Daniel Morgan was a wagoneer by occupation and a bit rough around the edges, he wasn’t known for being “gentlemanly.” A veteran of the French & Indian War, he got his start in the Revolutionary War in 1776 as the captain of a small rifle unit set up by the state of Virginia and commissioned by Congress. Morgan's had 69 men, and quickly got the nickname Morgan's Sharpshooters.
Morgan's most significant action in this period was support for the invasion of Canada, and the Battle of Quebec in which he was seen as a hero, despite General Benedict Arnold's overall failure and their subsequent capture.
In early 1777, when Morgan was freed from captivity, he was commissioned as a Colonel and assigned command of the 11th Virginia Regiment. Not long afterward he was instructed by George Washington to form a Provisional Rifle Corps consisting of men skilled with the use of the long rifle.
Having done so, his first assignment was to harass Colonel William Howe as he retreated through New Jersey. Morgan did so by having his 500 riflemen snipe the enemy troops as they moved, using their longer range to do so from safety, an unusual tactic for that day.
Sent to join the northern army headed by General Horatio Gates, Morgan's Riflemen helped establish better conditions for the coming Battle of Saratoga. A series of quick attacks on the British Indian allies drove them back to the main force which interfered with British ability to gather intelligence of the American troops' movements.
After a series of similar successes, Morgan left active service for a year, then re-joined the southern army with Nathaniel Greene. There his Riflemen's string of successes were capped when they were again pivotal in a key victory, the Battle of Cowpens.
Facing a superior British line commanded by Colonel Banastre Tarleton, they met it head-on to fire three rounds (before the marching British muskets were in range), conducting a planned withdrawal to another location and duplicating the effort, then joined the main force against the now-depleted and disheartened British lines, who quickly fell into retreat. This was seen as the worst British defeat since the battle at Saratoga, both victories credited to Morgan's Riflemen and described as key turning points in the Revolutionary War".

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Heroine of the Revolution


elizabeth burgin.jpg

Little is known about Elizabeth Burgin except that she played a significant role in aiding American soldiers who were prisoners of the British during the Revolutionary War.

During the Revolutionary War, the British held many American prisoners-of-war on prison ships in the New York Harbor. On the ships, the quarters were crowded and the prisoners were given little food or water. Diseases like smallpox and yellow fever spread easily and over seven thousand prisoners died while on the ships.

A resident of New York, Burgin was able to help the prisoners by visiting them and bringing them food. One evening when she returned home from visiting a prison ship, an American officer asked to meet with her about a plan to help the prisoners escape. The British only allowed women on the prison ships, so the officer wanted Burgin to alert the prisoners to be ready for the escape and to help with the plan of smuggling them off the ship. Burgin complied and helped more than 200 prisoners escape over the next several weeks.

Once the British discovered they were missing prisoners they offered a two hundred pound reward for her capture. This amount was equal to twenty years of pay for a British soldier, so there was a great incentive for them to try to capture her. Burgin narrowly escaped being captured and left the area. Burgin wrote to General George Washington, asking for his help now that the British had all of her possessions.

General Washington wrote to the Continental Congress about Burgin’s role:

“Regarding Elizabeth Burgin, recently an inhabitant of New York. From the testimony of our own (escaped) officers…it would appear that she has been indefatigable for the relief of the prisoners, and for the facilitation of their escape. For this conduct she incurred the suspicion of the British, and was forced to make her escape under disturbing circumstances.” (1)

In 1781, the Continental Congress awarded Burgin with a pension for her part in helping the Patriots’ cause.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Meriwether Lewis Is Shot While Hunting



"August 11, 1806, while hunting for elk along the Missouri River, Meriwether Lewis is shot in the hip, probably by one of his own men.

Lewis and Clark had embarked on their epic journey to the Pacific two years earlier. The 33 members of the Corps of Discovery had experienced many adventures and narrowly escaped disaster on several occasions, but they had lost only one man (Sergeant Floyd, a probable victim of appendicitis) and suffered relatively few serious injuries. Now, at last, they were returning home; St. Louis was scarcely a month away.
A few weeks earlier, Lewis and Clark had divided the party in order to explore additional new territory. The two groups were supposed to reunite at the junction of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers.


Lewis, traveling with nine men, hurried down the Missouri, eager to be reunited with Clark and the main body of the expedition. However, he periodically had to take time to stop and hunt for game to feed the hardworking men.
On the morning of this day in 1806, Lewis spotted some elk on a bar in the river thickly overgrown with willows. He put to shore and set out to hunt accompanied by Private Cruzatte. Spotting an elk, Lewis was just about to fire his rifle when he was hit in the buttocks by a bullet. The blow spun him around and slashed a three-inch gash in his hip. Knowing that Cruzatte was blind in one eye and nearsighted in the other, Lewis immediately assumed the private had mistaken him for an elk. “Damn you,” Lewis cried. “You have shot me.”
When Cruzatte did not respond, Lewis feared Indians might have attacked him. Rushing back to the boat, he rallied the men and sent them off to save Cruzatte. Twenty minutes later, the men returned with Cruzatte. They had seen no Indians, and Cruzatte denied having shot Lewis and claimed he had not heard his shouts.

For the rest of his days, Cruzatte insisted he had not shot his captain. Lewis, however, had the offending bullet: A .54 caliber slug from a modern U.S. Army rifle. Lewis was shot by a gun identical to the one carried by Cruzatte, and one unlikely to be in the hands of any Indian. The near-sighted Cruzatte probably mistook the leather-clad Lewis for an elk, though it is unlikely the private’s guilt will ever be proven with absolute certainty.

His wound was not serious, but Lewis spent the next several days lying faced down in the bottom of a canoe as the party proceeded down river. The following day, they caught up with Clark. By the time they reached St. Louis on September 23, Lewis’ wound had healed and the excitement of homecoming overshadowed the event".

You will find Lewis' own account of this mishap HERE from his journals.