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|Battle of Blue Licks|
|Part of the American Indian Wars and American Revolutionary War|
Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Boone rallying his men for an attack against Indians and Loyalists in the Battle of Blue Licks
|Commanders and leaders|
John Todd †,|
Stephen Trigg †,
Robert Patterson Lt.James Felix McGuire
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Blue Licks, fought on August 19, 1782, was one of the last battles of the American Revolutionary War. The battle occurred ten months after Lord Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown, which had effectively ended the war in the east. On a hill next to the Licking River in what is now Robertson County, Kentucky (then Fayette County, Virginia), a force of about 50 Loyalists along with 300 American Indians ambushed and routed 182 Kentucky militiamen. It was the last victory for the Loyalists and Indians during the frontier war. British, Loyalist and Native Indian forces would engage in fighting with American forces once more the following month in Wheeling, West Virginia, during the Siege of Fort Henry.
Although the main British army under Lord Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown in October 1781, virtually ending the war in the east, fighting on the western frontier continued. Aided by the British garrison at Fort Detroit, Indians north of the Ohio River redoubled their efforts to drive the American settlers out of western Virginia (now Kentucky and West Virginia).
In July 1782, a meeting took place at the Shawnee villages near the headwaters of the Mad River in the Ohio Country, with Shawnees, Delawares, Mingos, Wyandots, Miamis, Ottawas, Ojibwas, and Potawatomis in attendance. As a result, 150 British rangers under Captain William Caldwell (of Butler's Rangers) and some 1,100 Indian warriors supervised by Pennsylvania Loyalists Alexander McKee, Simon Girty, and Matthew Elliott set out to attack Wheeling, on the upper Ohio River. This was one of the largest forces sent against American settlements during the war.
The expedition was called off, however, when scouts reported that a force under George Rogers Clark, whom the Indians feared more than any other commander, was about to invade the Ohio Country from Kentucky. Caldwell's army returned to the Mad River to oppose the invasion, but the attack never came. In fact, Clark did have a large armed boat patrolling the Ohio River, but he had no plans to invade. Most of the Indian warriors returned to their homes.
Caldwell and about 50 Loyalists, supported by 300 Indians, crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky. They meant to surprise and destroy the settlement of Bryan Station, but the settlers discovered them and took shelter within their stockade. Caldwell and McKee's force laid siege to Bryan Station on August 15, 1782, killing all of the settlers' livestock and destroying their crops, but withdrew after two days when they learned that Kentucky militiamen were on the way. Caldwell had lost five Indians killed and two wounded during his short siege.
The militia arrived at Bryan Station on August 18. The force included about 47 men from Fayette County and another 135 from Lincoln County. The highest-ranking officer, Colonel John Todd of Fayette County, was in overall command, assisted by Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Boone, the famed frontiersman. Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Trigg and Major Hugh McGary led the Lincoln County contingent. Benjamin Logan, colonel of the Lincoln militia, was gathering men and had not yet arrived.
The militiamen could pursue the raiders immediately, to keep them from escaping, or they could wait for Logan to arrive with reinforcements. Daniel Boone advised waiting for Logan, who was only a day away, but others urged immediate action, pointing out that the enemy force had a 40-mile (60 km) lead on them. Boone felt compelled to go along. The Kentuckians set out on horseback over an old buffalo trail before making camp at sunset.
On the morning of August 19, the Kentuckians reached the Licking River, near a spring and salt lick known as the Lower Blue Licks. A few Indian scouts were seen watching them from across the river. Behind the scouts was a hill around which the river looped. Todd called a council and asked Daniel Boone, the most experienced woodsman, what he thought. Boone said he had been growing increasingly suspicious because of the obvious trail the Indians left. He felt the Indians were trying to lead them into an ambush.
Hugh McGary, known as both a fierce Indian fighter and an unstable hothead, urged immediate attack. When no one listened, he mounted his horse and rode across the ford, calling out, "Them that ain't cowards, follow me." The men immediately followed McGary, as did the officers, who hoped to restore order. Boone remarked, "We are all slaughtered men," and crossed the river.
Most of the men dismounted and formed a line of battle several rows deep. They advanced up the hill, Todd and McGary in the center, Trigg on the right, Boone on the left. As Boone had suspected, Caldwell's force was waiting on the other side, concealed in ravines. When the rebels reached the summit, the Indians opened fire at close range with devastating accuracy. After only five minutes, the center and right of the rebel line fell back. Only Boone's men on the left managed to push forward. Todd and Trigg, easy targets on horseback, were shot dead.
The Kentuckians began to flee down the hill, fighting hand-to-hand with Indians who had flanked them. McGary rode up to Boone's company and told him everyone was retreating and that Boone was now surrounded. Boone ordered his men to retreat. He grabbed a riderless horse and ordered his 23-year-old son, Israel Boone, to mount it. Israel suddenly fell to the ground, shot through the neck. Boone realized his son was dead, mounted the horse and joined in the retreat.
Although he had not taken part in the battle, George Rogers Clark, as senior commander, was widely condemned in Kentucky for allowing the Loyalist-Indian force to cross the river and inflict the Blue Licks disaster. In response, Clark launched a retaliatory raid across the Ohio River in November 1782. His force consisted of more than 1,000 men, including Benjamin Logan and Daniel Boone. The Kentuckians destroyed five unoccupied Shawnee villages on the Great Miami River in the last major offensive of the American Revolution. No battles took place, since the Shawnees refused to stand and fell back to their villages on the Mad River.
Four years later, the Indian villages on the Mad River would be destroyed by Benjamin Logan at the outset of the Northwest Indian War. Hugh McGary confronted the Shawnee chief Moluntha and asked if he had been at Blue Licks. In fact, the Shawnees had not taken part, the Indians being Wyandots. Moluntha nodded his head in agreement. McGary killed him with a tomahawk. Moluntha had voluntarily and peacefully surrendered, waving an American flag and a copy of the peace treaty he had signed earlier that year, in the belief that these would protect him. Colonel Logan immediately relieved McGary of his command and ordered him court-martialed for killing a prisoner. McGary was stripped of his commission for a year, but was otherwise unpunished.
The Blue Licks battle site is commemorated at Blue Licks Battlefield State Park, on U.S. Route 68 between Paris and Maysville, just outside the town of Blue Licks Springs. The site includes a granite obelisk, burial grounds, and a museum. Every August, on the weekend closest to the 19th, a re-enactment and memorial service is held.