For the Clarion, Part Four

Tuesday the 26th.— The boats put off at three in the morning.  The sleet had been succeeded by snow which was driving before a keen and violent  wind.  An hour before day break they passed the boat of Capt. Hewett, moored under the shore, to whom Col. Benton delivered an order to slip his cable and follow.  By six o’clock the snow had ceased to fall, the clouds dispersed, & the sky became clear.  The luxury of seeing the rising sun was enjoyed a few minutes before seven; and a luxury it was; for like St. Paul in his tempestuous voyage from Syria to Rome, these men had been many days and nights without seeing sun, moon or stars.

Mouth of the Cumberland River at Smithland, Kentucky

Approaching the mouth of Cumberland, and you are astonished to see that the river does not become materially broader–In fact for 300 miles, from Fort Blount to the Ohio, there is very little variation in its breadth.   Its shores present a dreary appearance.  From the time you leave the rich lands of Davidson county you see little else than poor stoney ridges, until you cross the Kentucky line; after which the immediate bank of the river is a level, behind which are swamps and marshes, which in high water are overflowed and formed into lakes.  The exceptions to this description are so few that in this whole extent, on the banks of one of the noblest interior rivers in the world, the eye looks in vain for one thriving village or even one flourishing handsome farm.  The traveller who knew nothing of the upper country & who should ascend the Cumberland from its mouth, after seeing the hovels inhabited by miserably poor people which are scattered along the banks for the first eighty miles, and the sorrowful looking towns of Eddyville,  Dover, Palmyra, and Clarkesville, which appear here and there at long intervals, would feel as if suddenly transported to some enchanted land on his arrival at Nashville & as strong would be the contrast between the swamps, the ridges, the cabbins and the melancholy villages which he had passed, & the appearance of a rich and populous town, presenting to his view a number of beautiful brick edifices, its streets thronged with a busy crowd; and the whole surrounding country presenting an aspect of rich, flourishing, and elegant cultivation.

The Cumberland should be the pride of the Tennesseeans.  To estimate its value he should consider what would be the condition of his country if this river had not flowed through it, and if for the importation of foreign articles and the export of his home productions, he had to depend upon the miserable conveyance of waggons and carts.

By the Indians the Cumberland was called ‘Shawanee river,’ and by the French, ‘Shavanon.’  Its present name is derived from the mountains in which it takes its source; which take their name from the Cumberland mountains in the county of Cumberland in the north of England, to whose naked and rocky sides they bear a strong resemblance.

At dark the field and staff of the 2d regiment arrived at Smithland, a small town at the confluence of the Cumberland and Ohio.

Wednesday the 27th. — At sunrise the companies of M’Ewen, Reynolds, Gibbs, Caprton, Cannon, Hewett, Moore and M’Ferrin, with the field officers Col. Benton, Lieut. Col. Pillow and Major Martin were together.  The company of Capt. Smith had not yet come up; and those of Williamson and Renshaw were ahead with the general.

At Smithland Co. Benson found letters and orders from Gen. Jackson which were to govern his conduct during their separation.

The Gen. with Col. Halls regiment had arrived at Smithland at 10 o’clock in the night of the 18th.  He found the Ohio covered with ice and its passage impracticable.  For two and twenty days no person had entered it except Col. Anderson who had a most perilous voyage to Massac–While the gen. lay there a Tennessee trader ventured in.  This man ought to have known that there was danger in an undertaking which Gen. Jackson declined.  His temerity cost him dear.  Within three miles his boat was driven against the shore and crushed into atoms, in the very spot where Col Anderson a few days before had a hair breadth escape. On Saturday the 23d the ice had almost ceased running; the general put out, and passed Massac the next day, where he buried Rodgers, a private in Capt. Williamson’s company.

The people of Smithland spoke in terms of admiration of the order and subordination of the general’s troops.

After receiving the orders of the general the field officers viewed the Ohio.  They had already been informed that the ice was again in motion.  The excessive cold of the 25th and 26th had formed it again with surprizing rapidity.  It was already spread almost entirely over the river, and was fast accumulating.   The inhabitants of Smithland were unanimous in their advice not to enter it; particularly Mr. Woods to whom the detachment were indebted for many obliging attentions.  But the officers who were consulted did not thin the passage sufficiently dangerous to justify a delay.– Lieutenant Col. Pillow and Capt. Reynolds having considerable acquaintance with the river and its navigation, were decisively in favor of putting out.  It rested with Col. Benton, now invested with the command of the regiment by its separation from Gen. Jackson, to decide.  He had never felt before the responsibility of comma; and his anxiety became painful as he reflected that upon a word which he was to speak, it might depend whether a multitude of fine men should perish in the ice, or live to see their friends again. –If he had taken counsel from his feelings he would have waited the clearing of the river, but he had no opinion upon the subject, because he was ignorant of the management of vessels upon water.  His only alternative was to consult those whose skill, and association in the danger,  entitled them to his confidence; and having finally made up his mind to attempt the passage, he gave the order for putting out; having first provided the boats with long poles spiked with iron, for keeping off the sheets of ice.

The order was obeyed with perfect alacrity.  The whole of the captains had entered the river and got some miles on the way before the field officers were ready to follow.  M’Ewen was foremost.

On this occasion the volunteers did not imitate the conduct of raw troops under similar circumstances.  Altho’ they saw the officer who was invested with the command walking on the bank of the Ohio, and viewing the ice and knew very well how intimately their own fate was connected with his deliberations, yet they did not flock about him, after the manner of militia, to pester him with their crude advice.  On the contrary they behaved like men who knew it was the pride of soldiers to obey and not to dictate to their officers.

It was three o’clock in the evening before the field and staff were ready to put off.  They were detained several hours in  getting on board the horses, servants and baggage which had been sent over land.– Having made four miles they came to at the approach of night, without having overtaken any of the captains.

(To be continued.)

…But it was not.

In March, Tennessee Governor Blount received a letter from the Secretary of War, dated February 10, 1813, covering an order to Major Gen. Andrew Jackson, saying “that the causes for which the detachment of Tennessee militia and volunteers, have been called into service, having ceased, the President is pleased to direct that the troops be discharged.” (Carthage, Tennessee, Gazette, March 26, 1813)  A letter to the editor of the Weekly Register, dated Pinkneysville, February 13, was printed in that paper, and reprinted by the Baltimore Patriot on March 13, 1813:  “I have just received information, that the mounted volunteers from Tennessee, (600,) have arrived at Natches, and general Jackson’s flotilla, 1500 more, are momently expected.”  The Clarion, in a copy obtained from the American Antiquarian Society, printed news from Natchez as of March 22, in its April 6 issue.  By then, General Jackson had arrived, and “was making every exertion to procure the means of transportation for his baggage, &c. but had not entirely succeeded.  The report heretofore published of his probably being half way on his return was premature.”

A letter from Greenville, Mississippi Territory, of March 26  (in the Clarion of April 13), announced that the volunteers had left Camp Jackson the day before; that General Jackson had great difficulty getting wagons for the sick, that he was on foot, having given his horses to the sick.”  The author of the letter expresses his anger at the government agents:  “To see him, who is worthy to command a nation reduced to the necessity of quarrelling with the petty agents of government, to make them do their duty, was too much to be borne with.” The troops had arrived back in Nashville on April 24, “having performed a march of about 500 miles in 18 days, including the time lost in crossing the Tennessee River.”  Also given in this April 27 issue of the Clarion  are other details of the return home:  “We are told that the Chickasaws & Choctaws treated them very friendly  . . . .  Colbert behaved well, having provided a large supply of Corn and provisions . . . .  The last accounts from the Infantry state, that some hundreds of them were almost unable to march in consequence of blistered fee occasioned by the constant wading of waters and swamps.”  Once the troops did arrive at Nashville, they did not have long to rest.  On August 30, a brigade order issued by William Hall decreed this:  “The volunteers who descended the Mississippi last winter, are required by the order of their general of the 29th instant, to be ready at the summons of their government, to march with all the arms and equipments with which they were furnished, and that they have them in compleat order for that purpose.”(Carthage, Tennessee, Gazette, September 3, 1813)

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About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden