Clark, the son of a farmer, was born
Virginia in 1752. He had little formal education; he became a surveyor.
During Lord Dunsmore's War in 1774, he was commissioned a Captain in
the Virginia Militia.
In 1778, Clark
proposed to the Virginia Assembly a
to disrupt the British supply lines from Detroit. Clark reasoned that
capture of Vincennes and Kaskaskia would control Indian raids in the
Old Northwest Territory, would threaten the alliance between the
British and their Indian allies, and would lessen the strategic
importance of Detroit to the British. Clark had dispatched spies to
Vincennes and Kaskaskia. They had reported that these two garrisons
were lightly defended. With this information, Clark petitioned the
Virginia Assembly, which accepted his plan. Clark was commissioned a
Colonel in the Virginia Militia with orders to protect the Kentucky
Territory, but, unofficially however, to attack Kaskaskia and other
Lack of funds
and the competition among other
units limited Clark's force to less than 200 men. Clark surrounded and
captured Kaskaskia without a shot fired. The residents joined the
American cause. Some accompanied Clark and his detachment to Cahokia
and secured the allegiance of that outpost.
The 150 mile
march to Vincennes - Clark's next
- was marked by floods, freezing temperatures, and other miseries which
tested the limits of his men. Clark's cheerfulness, determination, and
ingenuity maintained the discipline and morale of the group. Details of
the march are more incredible than the actual capture of Vincennes.
force at Vincennes had been reduced to
300 men, and furthermore, the Indian allies had returned home for the
winter. By deception, Clark made his force appear larger than it
actually was, and Vincennes capitulated with few shots fired.
|Shown is George Rogers Clark
accepting the surrender of
Fort Sackville from Colonel Henry Hamilton in February 1779.
Clark now moved
upon Fort Sackville. During the
a group of Kickapoo warriors, returning to the fort, were caught by
surprise. The prisoners were tomahawked in full view of the fort.
Convinced that Clark's force was larger than his own, sensing the mood
of the attacking force, and with a fifth of his men wounded, Hamilton,
the commander, surrendered.
Clark's successes established
control of the Northwest Territory. This expedition was a brilliant
military accomplishment. Clark was promoted to Brigadier General by
Virginia as a reward for his feats. However, he was never reimbursed
for the costs of the Northwest campaign - costs he had personally
assumed. Ill and broke, he became an alcoholic. He died at his sister's
home in Louisville on February 13, 1818. His memoirs are at the
Wisconsin Historical Society.