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     Indian History and Genealogy     

 

[128] On the evening of Dec. 12, 1675, Massachusetts and Plymouth Colony forces reached a place of temporary rendezvous on the north side of Wickford Hill, in North Kingston, R.I. Remaining there one night, the next morning with General Josias Winslow at the head, proceeded on to the house of a Mr. Smith, where they suffered a delay of a few days awaiting the arrival of the Connecticut troops, and during which time the Indians destroyed the fortified house of Jireh Bull at South Kingston, R.I., and killed about seventeen persons. This was a daring feat on the part of the Indians, with so large an army not far distant and large reinforcements to that army daily and hourly expected. Bull's house was quite a large building, constructed of stone and enclosed with a stone wall, and garrisoned with about a dozen soldiers, and yet the Indians gained possession of it, set it on fire, thus destroying all that would burn, and put its occupants to death. This was done on the 16th of December, 1675. Bull's garrison thus destroyed was about fifteen miles from the main rendezvous of the Indians, and on the direct line of march from the English army to that rendezvous.

Saturday, Dec. 18, 1675, the Connecticut troops under Major Robert Treat arrived, and were united with those from Massachusetts and Plymouth colonies; and though quite a body of snow lay on the ground, no further delay to a forward movement was suffered, the combined forces of the three colonies marching to the site of Bull's garrison, which, till their arrival, probably they had not learned was destroyed. Here, unsheltered from the wintry blasts, the allies passed the night of the 18th of December, until about half past five o'clock the next morning, when (their provisions being exhausted and the supply that they had expected to find in Bull's garrisoned house destroyed by the [129] Indians) the wearied, frost bitten and hungry column recommenced its march through an almost trackless wilderness, further impeded by the heavy coating of snow that covered the ground, constantly accumulating and adding to its depth by that which during nearly all that sabbath day continued to fall. Napolean once said that he could make circumstances, but could not control the elements; and it requires the eye of only a casual observer to see that General Winslow had not only a multitude of untoward and most disheartening circumstances with which to contend, but the elements also were united in a war against him. From half past five in the morning till between one and two o'clock in the afternoon, did that wearied column force its way through the snow, dragging its slow length through paths winding, rough and difficult, thick woods, across gullies, over hills and fields, till it arrived on the borders of a hideous swamp, where for the present let us leave them while we turn our thoughts to their opponents, those with whom they were so soon fiercely to contend.

Upon an island of five or six acres, surrounded by this "hideous swamp," the Indians had intrenched and fortified themselves, and had here gone into winter quarters, the defences being a well-constructed double row of palisades about a rod apart, and still further strengthened by an immense hedge of fallen trees about a rod in thickness, presenting the branches outward. Within this fortification the Indians had erected about five hundred wigwams, in which they had deposited large quantities of Indian corn in baskets and tubs piled one upon another, and thus rendering the wigwams bullet proof. Here about three thousand Indians, including warriors, old men, women and children, had taken up their residence for the winter.

More than a hundred years later these premises, viz. [130] island and swamp, were cleared, so that the former now an upland meadow, and the latter a low meadow. In wet seasons of the year, water sometimes covers the low meadow, thus again rendering the high one an island.*(III-85)

There was only one place where this Indian fort could be assailed with any reasonable hope of success, and that was at the main entrance, which was fortified with a block house and flankers, which enabled the Indians both to enfilade and sweep this opening with a cross fire. Between the fort and the main land was a considerable body of water, less difficult probably than it had sometimes been to cross, as at the date of the English attack this was doubtless frozen. But to aid in passing over this ditch the Indians had fallen a large tree, so as to span the stream, and reaching from the main land to the principal entrance already described of the fortification. That tree made a foot bridge about six feet above the ditch. There were other small entrances to the fort, but this, with its almost insurmountable difficulties, was the most accessible.

Just before the English arrived at the fort, they had the good fortune to capture thirty-five Indians, one of whom, Peter by name, like his great prototype was ready to deny, at least in allegiance, his rightful lord and proper master; and but for the traitorous conduct of this Indian Peter, it is by no means certain that the English forces would have found the Indian fort at all, to say nothing of discovering the only vulnerable point in that admirably constructed defence.

Rev. Cotton Mather, writing about twenty-five years after the date of the Great Swamp Fight, said that the order in which the several companies were led into that [131] battle was as follows: - Capt. Moseley and Capt. Davenport led the van; Capt. Gardiner and Capt. Johnson were in the centre; Maj. Appleton and Capt. Oliver brought up the rear of the Massachusetts forces. Gen. Winslow, with the Plymouth forces under Maj. Bradford and Capt. Gorham, marched in the centre. And the Connecticut forces under Maj. Treat and Capt. Seely, Capt. Gallop, Capt. Mason, Capt. Watts and Capt. Marshall, made the rear of the whole body.

Anticipating the attack, the Indian commander had filled his block house with sharp-shooters, and also lined the palisades with Indian warriors. Winslow's order for an assault was instantly followed by a "double quick" movement on the part of the English, who with unrestrained ardor struggled as in a race to reach the fiery mouth of the Indian fort, although it was into the jaws of death under the red men's unerring aim that swept the entrance as with a besom of destruction. Capt. Isaac Johnson, of Roxbury, was killed outright while trying to lead his company over the foot-bridge formed by the fallen tree, and Nathaniel Davenport, of Boston, pierced with three fatal shots, fell and expired just within the gate; for the head of that column went down like grass before the scythe, disappeared as snow beneath the heated rays of a noonday's sun; but the centre and rear of that resistless force pressed up to support and fill the frightful gaps death had made in the front; and thus all shared equally in the responsibilities and dangers of the hour. Meanwhile the Connecticut forces (who had formed the rear) being pushed forward, and travelling over their dead and dying comrades of the front and centre, aided in forcing the terrible passage at the gate, and joined in the desperate hand to hand fight with the Indians within the fort; two Connecticut captains, viz., John Gallop, of New London, and Samuel Marshall, of Windsor, [132] tasting death in the struggle, and Capt. Robert Seely of New Haven being mortally wounded. From a shot in the rear, Capt. Joseph Gardiner of Salem is added to the list of gallant dead at the very moment of victory; Lieut. Phineas Upham, of Malden, had received his death wound; Major William Bradford was pierced with a musket ball that he carried through life and which found a lodgment with his corpse in the grave; and Benjamin Church, of Little Compton, had received a painful though curable injury; added to which in this bloody encounter, among the English soldiers over eighty were killed outright and one hundred and fifty wounded. It was a great, but a very costly, dear and blood-bought victory.

Capt. John Gorham, of the Plymouth Colony forces, was not wounded, but his health was so injured by the hardships incident to his participation in this war, that he died in a little more than one month after the Great Swamp Fight; and in consideration of the deaths of the captains slain in that battle, and the death of Captain Gorham, the Rev. Increase Mather wrote: "Thus did the Lord take away seven Captains out of that Army. Also four Lieutenants were wounded in that Fort Fight so that although the English had the better of it, yet not without solemn and humbling Rebukes of Providence."

Thus it appears that three lieutenants, besides Lieutenant Phineas Upham, were wounded in the Great Swamp Fight, but Upham probably was the only lieutenant whose wound proved mortal. Rev. Increase Mather, writing at about the time of that battle, and his son the Rev. Cotton Mather, writing a few years later, agree so nearly in their statements with regard to the number of English slain and wounded in that engagement, that it seems quite evident that the latter did little more than copy from the former. The Rev. [133] Increase Mather said: "Of the English there were killed and wounded about two hundred and thirty, whereof only eighty and five persons are dead." Rev. Cotton Mather said "about eighty five were slain and an hundred and fifty wounded." The difference of five among the wounded is no more than might have been expected, when time had enabled Cotton Mather to become acquainted with some particulars that had escaped the knowledge of his father, who wrote while yet some essential facts remained unknown to the public. *(III-86)

If those, who, twenty-five years from the date of the late war of the great rebellion, can state facts founded upon irresistible conclusions arrived at in view of the knowledge of those facts attained during that quarter of a century after the close of that conflict, and approximate as nearly to the sensational stuff that Greeley put forth under the name of "history," as Cotton Mather did to that written by his father concerning the Great Swamp Fight, the writer of this book will be greatly mistaken. Other writers have erred in what they have written concerning the late war, but none that I have read so grossly as Horace Greeley, whose history of the rebellion, deficient as I think it to be in common honesty, is even more deficient in common sense; and the writer of this book is at a loss to see how any military man can read Greeley's book and not at once conclude that he lacked not only the proper knowledge, but practical ability and common sense to discriminate between truth and error, and do not need to consider him in the light of his subsequent conduct in connection with a Democratic nomination for the presidency to strongly suspect him of partial lunacy.

 

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