For the Clarion, Part One

Journal of a Voyage from Nashville, Ten. to New Orleans in the winter of the year 1813 by the Tennessee Volunteers under the command of General Jackson

Flatboat (foreground) and Keelboat around Pittsburgh, late 18th century.

The journal that follows, unsigned, but charged by others to the pen of Col. Thomas Hart Benton, appeared in the NashvilleClarion of February 9, February 16, and March 9, after which date it was to be continued, but the following issues of the Clarion are either missing or do not contain the continuation of the journal.  James Parton, Andrew Jackson’s biographer, apparently knew of this journal, but apparently had not read it.  This is his reference:  “The Nashville papers of the spring of 1813 show that the whole heart of Western Tennessee went down the river with this expedition.  Every issue from the press teemed with paragraphs and speculations respecting it.  Diaries of the voyage were published.  One of these, which was somewhat bombastic and comically exact, called forth a very tolerable burlesque, entitled “A Journal of the Perigrinations of my Tom-cat; after the manner of a Journal of a Voyage from Nashville to New Orleans, by the Tennessee Volunteers.”

Oil portrait of Senator Benton at National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Elbert B. Smith, author of Magnificent Missourian; the life of Thomas Hart Benton, had read the journal in the Clarion, but focused on the ensuing quarrel between Benton and William B. Lewis more than on the journal itself.    According to the Library of Congress, the Nashville Clarion for 1813 is only held by nine libraries, and is available on microfilm from the Tennessee State Library and the University of Texas at Austin.  Other newspapers of the time may have republished the parts of the journal that are missing from the microfilms of the Clarion held by the University of Texas at Austin and by the Tennessee State Library.The following is the first part of the Journal printed by the Clarion on February 9, 1813:

Thursday January 7th — A few minutes after 12 the first regiment of infantry, upwards of 700 strong went on board the boats prepared for them on the Cumberland river, and fell down to Robertson’s landing, six miles, by land, seventeen by water, below Nashville.  At one the 2d regiment of upwards of 600 strong, took up the line of march for the same place.  In the absence of the other field officers col. Benton was charged with the removal of both regiments.  He marched on foot at the head of the second.  On the night of the 7th they encamped together at Robertson’s landing.

Friday the 8th — The first regiment continued its voyage to the mouth of Harpeth, forty miles by water, twenty-six by land, below Nashville.  Five companies  of the 2d continued their march overland for the same place.  The companies of M’Ewen, Moore and Hewitt, remained at Robertson’s landing where two boats, prepared by the government, and one impressed under the orders of gen Jackson, were getting ready to receive them.  The same day arrived there the companies of Willaimson, Renshaw and M’Ferrin; all of the 2d.  The first only was provided with a boat, the other two had waited twenty four hours to receive the pay which the government allowed them in advance.  At 4 in the morning Col. Benton having committed the command of the boats to capt. Martin and of the march to capt. Reynolds, returned to Nashville–These officers were directed to seize upon the boats they should find at the mouth of Harpeth, and to halt the two regiments there until the general should arrive.

Saturday the 9th — The arms and blankets destined for the use of the volunteers arrived at Nashville.  The general had waited to receive them.  Understanding that the waggoners, paid by the day, travelled at the rate of some five or ten miles to the twenty-four hours, he had previously despatched Lieut. col. Bradley with a detachment of dragoons to drive them on with their sabres. –On their arrival the general impressed a boat to convey them to the volunteers.

[The right side of the column of the next paragraph as been blocked by an inserted paper or a tear.  I give the best reading I can.]

Sunday the 10th.–  Gen. Jackson having transacted business during the greater part of the night of the 9th and the fore part of the succeeding day, found himself ready about noon to quit his quarters.  He marched on foot to his boats, two miles below Nashville, accompanied by his suite, his guard, his field officers, and a large concourse of respectable citizens.  The escort of the Gen. were composed of Major Carroll’s company of Nashville volunteers under the command of Lieut, Deadrich [?], dressed in complete uniform and preceded by a fine drum and fife, their appearance was warlike and beautiful.  The elegant stand of colours presented the company by the ladies of the country were borne by ________ Sittler, an officer whose accomplishments would do honor to a much higher rank.

At three in the evening the general’s suite embarked.  The chaplain of the expedition, Mr. Blackman and two other divines had their passage on board his boat.

[Parts of the following paragraph are impossible to decipher.]

This is a map of the Cumberland River watershed.

At the same time Col. Hall, Lieut. Col. Bradley, Major Lauderdale and the staff of the first Regiment, also embarked.  Transportation for the field and staff of the second had not been provided; and the officers had to shift for themselves.  Major Martin got a passage with col. Hall to the mouth of Harpeth, Lieut. col. Pillow went overland to the mouth of Cumberland; Col. Benton waited for the Colonel of the 24th, Wm. P. Anderson, who was to start the same evening, bound to Massec [?] to assume there the command of his regiment . . .  [Undeciphered]  the night was intensely cold, but still, and nothing was heard to interrupt the silence that reigned save the hollow murmuring of the water, which broke upon the rocky shore.  The whole crew consisting of some ten or a dozen soldiers of the 24th, and the officers mentioned.  Not a soul of them knew anything about the navigation of the river or the conduct of a boat.  Col. Anderson placed himself at the helm; the other officers stood by him.  No one said he was afraid; but the question Caesar to the pilot, Quid times?repeatedly and involuntarily occurred.  Finally, recollecting that they were fatalist’s, they gave the boat to the stream; surrendered themselves to their destiny, and went below into the cabin.–Having floated two hours, they came to for the balance of the night.

(To be continued.)

[i] James Parton.  Life of Andrew Jackson,  New York:  Mason Brothers, 1860, v. I, p. 374.

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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