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Battle of Blue Licks

Taken from the KY Ency. 1992, page 92:

The Battle of Blue Licks, known to generatoins of Kentuckians as "the last battle of the American Revolution," was fought August 19, 1782, at a site just north of the Lower Blue Licks crossing of the Licking River, in what is now Robertson County. The battle was, in fact, but one of a series of frontier skirmishes that took place between the 1781 defeat of the main British army at Yorktown and the 1783 conclusion of the final peace agreement. Fortunately for the United States, this remote encounter had no influence on the Revolutionary War's outcome, as it was one of the worst military disasters suffered by Americans on the Kentucky frontier. In early August 1782, the British and their Indian allies ammassed a force at Old Chillicothe, Ohio, for another foray, this one larger than usual, in a long series of raids upon the frontier settlements. They set out to attack Wheeling (now West Virginia), but while on the march received word of a possible offensive on the Shawnee home territory led by Kentucky commander George Rogers Clark. Most of the Shawnee in the eleven-hundred-man force went home. Capt William Caldwell, the British officer in command, pressed on with about sixty Canadians, mostly men of Butler's Rangers, and perhaps three hundred Indians, mostly Wyandot. Their target changed to Bryan's Station, an outpost just north of Lexington. They surrounded the Bryan's Station stockade on August 15 and harassed its occupants for a couple of days. Unable to overcome the defenders quickly, the Indians tired of the attack, and the raiders began a slow march back to the north.

Word of the attack on Bryan's Station spread quickly. Detachments of Kentucky militiamen gathered to go to the settlement's defense, but most arrived after the attackers had withdrawn. By early morning on August 18, Col John Todd, commander of the Fayette County militia, had assembled about 180 men at Bryan's Station, but no enemy was in sight. Although Todd and his men knew that Col Benjamin Logan was on the way with many reinforcements, they feared that any delay might allow the Indians to escape. Soon they rode off in pursuit. The raiding party had made no efffort to conceal its route and by August 19 the Kentuckians caught up with them. From a rise just south of the Lower Blue Lick's crossing, the pursuers saw a few Indians disappear over a hill on the other side of the river. Daniel Boone, an officer in the militia, feared an ambush from ravines he knew to be beyond the opposite hilltop, and he advised a flanking maneuver to another crossing. But the Kentuckians pressed on to the Lower Blue Licks Ford. They paused again on the riverbank, and several officers urged the group to await the arrival of Logan's men. A few began crossing the river, however, led by Hugh McGary, as legend would have it, and soon the entire little army splashed over to the north shore. There they stopped long enough to take up an attack formation. An advance party, probably mounted, under Silas Hardin and William McBride, led the way up the hill. Behind them came the main body in three rough divisions - the center probably under John Todd, the left commanded by Boone, and the right led by Col Stephen Trigg. Most of the men advancerd on foot. When the advance party came within fifty yards of the ravines Boone had warned of, the British and Indians waiting there opened fire, bringing down several of the scouts. Boone led his men forward and pushed back the Indians opposite them. The fire against Trigg's detachment was more effective, and when their leader fell, the Kentuckians' right began a confused retreat. Some of the Indians followed, and quickly outflanked Todd's men in the center, who also began a general run back toward the river. Boone's men pulled away to the left, and most of them swam the Licking farthr downstream.

While the militiamen ran back toward the crossing or tried to mount their horses, the Wyandot closed with their tomahawks. In a few minutes close to seventy Kentuckians were killed, and a few others were captured. Fast-riding Benjamin Netherland organized a party of Kentuckians who stood briefly on the south bank and gave covering fire towards Bryan's Station. The Wyandot pursued for only a couple of miles, then returned to the battlefield to strip, scale, and multilate the bodies. The British and the Indians had suffered two dozen casualties - fourteen wounded and perhaps ten killed. Logan's force, meanwhile, had assembled at Bryan's Station and started north after the first Kentucky pursuers. Within five miles they met the fleeing survivors and turned back. On August 24 Logan finally arrived at the battle site at the head of a five-hundred-man army. All his men could do was bury the remains of their comrades. The bloody defeat stunned the residents of frontier Kentucky. Many community leaders were among the dead, including Todd, Trigg, McBride and Daniel Boone's son Israel. A time of fear and mourning followed, and arguments broke out over responsibility for the disaster. George Rogers Clark was a favorite target of accusations, many blaming him for failure to prevent the raid in the first place by properly fortifying and patrolling the northern approaches to central Kentucky. Clark soon mounted a retalitory attack against the Indian homelands in Ohio. The Battle of Blue Licks was but one tragic episode in the warfare between Kentucky settlers and Indians that raged off and on from the earliest pioneer days until the conclusion of the War of 1812. (Nicky Hughes)

The information on this battle made available by Keith A. McGuire.

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