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American Revolution: Battle of Blue Licks

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Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Blue Licks was fought August 19, 1782, during the American Revolution (1775-1783).

Armies & Commanders:

Americans

  • Colonel John Todd
  • Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Trigg
  • Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Boone
  • 182 militia

British & Native Americans

    Captain William Caldwell
  • Alexander McKee
  • Simon Girty
  • 50 rangers, 300 Native Americans

Battle of Blue Licks Overview:

Though major fighting had effectively ended with the American victory at the Battle of Yorktown in October 1781, the war continued to be fought on the frontier by parties of militia, British troops, and Native Americans. In July 1782, Captain William Caldwell led a force of British rangers to the headwaters of the Mad River to meet with representatives from a number of tribes. Assembled at a Shawnee village, nearly 1,100 Native American warriors had come together under the guidance of agents Alexander McKee, Simon Girty, and Matthew Elliot.

The largest force assembled by the British on the frontier, Caldwell planned to move to the Ohio River and attack Wheeling. This operation was cancelled after reports indicated that Brigadier General George Rogers Clark was intending to strike into the Ohio Country from Kentucky. An accomplished frontier fighter who had won victories at Kaskaskia (1778) and Vincennes (1779), Clark struck fear into the Native American warriors. Shifting his men to meet this threat, Caldwell soon learned that the reports were false.

Annoyed with this turn of events, many of the Native Americans departed, leaving Caldwell with 50 rangers and around 300 warriors. Unwilling to remain on the defensive, Caldwell, along with McKee and Girty, marched into Kentucky to attack the settlement at Bryan's Station. Alerted to the enemy's approach, the residents fortified settlement and Caldwell was forced to lay siege on August 15. After losing five killed and two wounded, the British abandoned the siege on August 17 after learning that the Kentucky militia was marching to relieve the settlement.

Arriving on August 18, the militia numbered 182 men under Colonel John Todd and Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Boone of Fayette County and Colonel Stephen Trigg and Major Hugh McGary of Lincoln County. With the enemy gone, Todd, who was in overall command, called a conference to determine their plan of pursuit. Aware that Colonel Benjamin Logan was en route with 400 men, McGary recommended that they wait for the reinforcements before proceeding. Calling McGary's plan "timid," Todd decided to have his men immediately mount up to pursue the enemy.

Moving along an old buffalo trail, the militia saw clear traces of the enemy's retreat. Knowing that the Native Americans generally moved in small parties and took measures to conceal their trail, Boone became concerned that the Kentuckians were being led into an ambush. Voicing this, his warning was disregarded by Todd. Pressing on, they reached salt deposits, known as the Upper Blue Licks, near the Licking River early on August 19. Atop a hill, approximately a half mile past the ford, two Native Americans were seen relaxing on a hill.

Conferring, many of Todd's officers believed that they were stragglers, while Boone stated that he thought they were decoys. Familiar with the area, Boone related that the crest of the hill had numerous ravines in which a force could hide prior to an ambush. After suggesting that they wait for Logan, Boone felt that if they did attack, then half of the force should be sent upriver to take the hill in a pincers movement. While Todd agreed with Boone, McGary did not and proceeded to question Boone's courage.

Stung by Todd's earlier comment about being timid, McGary mounted up and shouted "Them that ain’t cowards follow me!" and rode across the river. Followed by several men, Todd was forced to cross with the rest of his command to at least ensure that an orderly attack was made. Forming into three columns, with Boone leading the left, Todd and McGary the center, and Trigg on the right, the Kentuckians moved up the hill on foot. Leading the way, McGary and several men had just reached the crest when Caldwell's men sprung the trap.

Under heavy fire from their front and flanks, Todd and Trigg's men broke after only five minutes of fighting. Both on horseback, the two colonels were shot and killed. On the left, Boone was able to make some headway but was soon informed by McGary that the line was collapsing. Seeing Todd and Trigg's men fleeing, Boone moved his men off into the woods on the left with the goal of safely crossing the river downstream.

At the ford, Benjamin Netherland rallied several militiamen and covered the Kentuckian's retreat. Trying to buy time for his men, Boone remained behind. His son Israel, whom he had told to flee, remained by his side and was killed when a bullet struck him in the neck. With no time to grieve, Boone fell back through the woods and rejoined his men on the other side of the river. Advancing, Caldwell's Native Americans set about scalping the dead and wounded. This allowed the survivors to retreat south unmolested.

Aftermath

The Battle of Blue Licks cost the Kentuckians 72 killed and 11 captured, while Caldwell's command lost 7 killed and 10 wounded. Retreating down the buffalo trail, the Kentuckians met Logan's advancing column. Pushing north, Logan halted at the Licking River as he wished to avoid another disaster. Though he played no part in the battle, Clark was blamed for the defeat as the senior commander in the region. As a result, he mounted a large expedition, which included Boone and Logan, that November which burned Shawnee villages along the Great Miami River in Ohio.

Selected Sources

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Military History
  4. Conflicts & Battles
  5. Battles & Wars: 1601-1800
  6. American Revolution
  7. American Revolution - 1778-1783
  8. Battle of Blue Licks - American Revolution Battle of Blue Licks

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