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Campbell’s Cherokee Expedition

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II.  Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

January 15.—The North Carolina boys have returned from the expedition against the Cherokees crowned with success. Colonel Arthur Campbell, who commanded them, in his report to Mr. Jefferson, dated this day, gives the following, circumstantial account of their experience: —”On reaching the frontier, I found the Indians meant to annoy us by small parties, and carry off horses. To resist them effectually, the apparently best measure was to transfer the war without delay into their own borders. To raise a force sufficient, and provide them with provisions and other necessaries, seemed to be a work of time that would be accompanied with uncommon difficulties, especially in the winter season. our situation was critical, and nothing but an extraordinary effort could save us and disappoint the views of the enemy. All the miseries of 1776 came fresh in remembrance, and to avoid a like scene men flew to their arms, and went to the field. The Wattago men, under Lieutenant-Colonel Sevier, first marched to the amount of about three hundred; the militia under Campbell, with those of Sullivan, made four hundred more. The place of rendezvous was to be on this side the French River. Colonel Sevier with his men got on the path before the others, and by means of some discoveries made by his scouts, he was induced to cross the river, in pursuit of a party of Indians that were coming towards our settlements. On the 16th of December he fell in with the party, since found to consist of seventy Indians, mostly from the town of Chote, killed thirteen, and took all their baggage, &c., in which were some of Clinton’s proclamations, and other documents expressive of their hostile designs against the Americans.

“After this action, the Wattago corps thought proper to retreat to an island in the river. On the 22d I crossed the French River, and found the Wattago men in great want of provisions. We gave them a supply from our small stock, and the next day made a forced march towards the Tenasse. The success of the enterprise seemed to rest on our safely reaching the further bank of that river, as we had information that the Indians had obstructed the common fording places, and had a force ready there to oppose our crossing. The morning of the 24th I made a feint towards the island town, and with the main body passed the river at Timothee. We were now discovered; the Indians we saw seemed to be flying in consternation. Here I divided my force, sending a part to attack the towns below, and with the other I proceeded towards their principal town Chote. Just as I passed a defile above Toque, I observed the Indians in force, stretching along the hills be-low Chote, with an apparent design to attack our van, then within their view; but the main body too soon came in sight for me to succeed in decoying them off the hills; so they quietly let us pass on in order, without firing a gun, except a few scattering shot at our rear, at a great distance from the cliffs. We soon were in possession of their beloved town, in which we found a welcome supply of provisions. The 25th, Major Mar-tin went with a detachment to discover the route the enemy were flying off by. He surprised a party of Indians, took one scalp, and seventeen horses loaded with clothing, skins, and household furniture. He discovered that most of the fugitives were making towards Telico and the Hiwasse. The same day, Captain Crabtree, of the Virginia regiment, was detached with sixty men to burn the town of Chilhowee. He succeeded in setting fire to that part of it which is situated on the south side of the river; although he was attacked by a superior force, he made good his retreat.

“The 26th, Major Tipton, of the Carolina corps, was detached with one hundred and fifty mounted infantry, with orders to cross the river, dislodge the enemy on that side, and destroy the town of Telassee. At the same time Major Gilbert Christian, with one hundred and fifty foot, were to patrol the hills on the south side of Chilhowee, and burn the remaining part of that town. This party did their duty well, killed three Indians, and took nine prisoners. The officer of the horse, by an unmilitary behavior, failed in crossing the river. This trip took two days. In the mean time the famous Indian woman, Nancy Ward, came to camp. She gave us various intelligence, and made an overture in behalf of some of the chiefs for peace; to which I then evaded giving an explicit answer, as I wished first to visit the vindictive part of the nation, mostly settled at Hiwasse and Chistowee, and to distress the whole as much as possible by destroying their habitations and provisions. The 28th we set fire to Chote, Sietogo, and Little Tuskeego, and moved our whole force to a town on Telico River, called Kai-a-tee, where I established a post to secure a retreat, and to lay up provisions. In the evening, Major Martin, on returning from a patrol, attacked a party of Indians, killed two, and drove several into the river. The same evening, in another skirmish, we lost Captain James Elliot, a gallant young officer, being the first and only man the enemy bad power to hurt on the expedition; the Indians lost three men on the occasion.

“The 29th I set out for Hiwasse, distant about forty miles, leaving at Kai-a-tee, under Major Christian, a garrison of one hundred and fifty men. The 30th we arrived at the Hiwasse, and found the town of the same name abandoned. In patrolling the environs, we took a sensible young warrior, who in-formed us that a body of Indians, with McDonald, the British Agent and some Tories, were at Chistowee, twelve miles distant, waiting to receive us. I had reason to believe that the enemy had viewed us from the hills above Hiwassee, for which reason I ordered our camp to be laid off, fires kindled, and other shows made, as if we intended to stay all night. At dark we set out with about three hundred men, (the Wattago men re-fusing to go farther,) crossed the river at an unexpected ford, and that night got near the town. Early in the morning of the 31st, we found that the enemy had fled in haste the evening before, leaving behind them as they had done at the other towns, almost all their corn and other provisions, together with many of their utensils for agriculture and all their heavy house-hold furniture, with part of their stocks of horses, cattle, and hogs. These towns I expected would have been contended for with obstinacy, as most of the Chickamogga people had re-moved thither after their visitation in 1779. Our troops becoming impatient, and no other object of importance being in view, it was resolved to return homewards. Major Martin, with a detachment, was ordered to pass by Saltoga, and the other towns on the Telico River. In his route, he took four prisoners, from whom he learned that several of the chiefs had met a few days before, to consult on means of procuring peace. As I found the enemy were humbled, I took the liberty to send the chiefs a message.1

“Our whole loss on this expedition was, one man killed by the Indians, and two wounded by accident. It would have been very pleasing to the troops to have met with the whole force of the nation at once on equal ground, but so great was the panic that seized them after seeing us in order over the Tenasse, that they never ventured themselves in sight of the army, but on rocky cliffs, or other ground inaccessible to our mounted infantry. By the returns of the officers of different detachments, we killed twenty-nine men, and took seventeen prisoners, mostly women and children; the number of wounded is uncertain. Besides these we brought in the family of Nancy Ward, whom for their good offices we do not consider as prisoners. The whole are in Major Martin’s care at the Great Island, until the sense of Government is known how they are to be disposed of. We have destroyed the towns of Chote, Sietogo, Tuskeego, Chilhowee, Toque, Micliqua, Kai-a-tee, Saltoga, Telico, Hiwassee, and Chistowee, all principal towns, besides some small ones, and several scattering settlements, in which were upwards of one thousand houses, and not less than fifty thousand bushels of corn, and large quantities of other kinds of provisions, all of which, after taking sufficient subsistence for the army whilst in the country and on its return, were committed to the flames, or otherwise destroyed. No place in the Over Hill country remained unvisited, except the small town of Telassee, a scattering settlement in the neighborhood of Chickamogga, and the town of Calogee, situated on the sources of the Mobile. We found in Okanastota’s baggage, which he left behind in his fright, various manuscripts, copies of treaties, commissions, letters, and other archives of the nation, some of which show the double game that people have been carrying on during the present war. There seemed to be not a man of honor among the chiefs, except him of Kai-a-tee, whom I would willingly have discriminated, had it been in my power. Never did a people so happily situated, act more foolishly, in losing their livings and their country at a time an advantageous neutrality was held out to them; but such are the consequences of British seduction. The enemy in my absence did some mischief in Powell’s Valley, and on the Kentucky path, near Cumberland Gap, besides three children that they scalped on Halstein; one of the perpetrators of which we killed on our return, and retook a number of horses. The Botetourt and Montgomery militia were too slow in their movements to do any service.”2


1 See Colonel Campbell to the Chiefs and Warriors.
2 New Jersey Gazette, March 21.