LONG KNIFE, James Alexander Thom, 1979, Avon, paperback, 592pp, bibliography
One of the great heroic figures of the Revolutionary War and of Illinois history is the underappreciated George Rogers Clark, dismissed in school history books with a simple statement that he captured the British holdings in the Northwest Territories during the Revolutionary War and was the older brother of Captain William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame.
The story of George Rogers Clark is an incredible story of endurance, tenacity, dedication, and diplomacy as well as martial skill.
This historical novel traces Clark’s story and he and his hand-selected men and their capture of the British possessions, at the time still dominated by French settlers, in Southern Illinois, as well as the fort at Vincennes, Indiana. Only Fort Detroit, the seat of British power, evaded Clark.
All of this was done with only about 185 men, invariably outnumbered, and accomplished so skillfully that not a single man was lost in this campaign of invasion and seizure!
Thom makes clear that he does not wish to stray from actual history and that documents quoted in the novel are authentic. The only thing Thom says he speculates on, due to lack of information, is the remantic relationship between Clark and the young lady in St Louis who was the daughter of the Spanish governor, whom he had hoped to marry. For the record, at the time, what we regard as the Louisiana Purchase was held by the Spanish.
The story is an exciting tale about Clark’s armed expedition, dispatched from Virginia, with only a handful of recruits as opposed to the 600 he was promised. It helped immensely that the recruits were experienced frontiersmen.
After rowing down the Ohio, he halts at present-day Louisville, Kentucky, the town he founded, for training. Then, still not spotted or reported, Clark’s men went ashore at present-day Metropolis near the ruins of the French-built Fort Massac. Today, at Fort Massac State Park, a statue of Clark looks out over the Ohio. Clark didn’t linger there but rapiply moved overland to seize Kaskaskia along the Mississippi River, on the Illinois side south of St Louis. His men also captured nearby Prairie du Rocher, Cahokia, and another town.
All of this was accomplished without losing a man.
Clark solidified the American hold on the settlements and made treaties with the Native American tribes of the region, many of them allied with the British and constituting a major threat to Kentucky, from which they returned to the British at Fort Detroit to claim rewards for the scalps they turned on. Named by Indians “Long Knife” and his men, “Long Knives,” Clark dealt fairly and honestly with them and won the tribes over.
Later, when the fort at Vincennes, seized by a force dispatched from Cahokia by Clark, falls to the British out of Fort Detroit, Long Knife responds with a grueling, impossible overland trip in mid-winter floods across Southern Illinois and recaptures Vincennes following a siege by his outnumbered stirke force. On the site of Fort Sackville today is the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park dominated by a memorial to Clark.
There’s much more to the story than this. All essentially true beneath the fiction. You will find it about the most painless way you’ll ever find of learning about an important and exciting Revolutionary War campaign. I recommend this book highly. You’ll find used copies for a penny on Amazon.