Kingsport Times-News: The last battle of the American Revolutionary war was a British victory
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The last battle of the American Revolutionary war was a British victory

Ned Jilton • Jul 3, 2019 at 5:00 PM

Many people believe that fighting in the American Revolutionary war ended with the Siege of Yorktown, Va., Oct. 19, 1781, when Lord Cornwallis was forced to surrender to George Washington.

But west of the Appalachian Mountains the fighting would continue for almost a year, with the last big battle being fought in August of 1782 at a place called the Blue Licks in Kentucky. It was there a combined British and Indian force surprised the Kentucky militia. And one of the men leading that militia was none other than Daniel Boone.

Even though the Americans were on the verge of victory in the 13 colonies, the British still controlled Canada and the Great Lakes region. Now a band of English rangers under the command of Capt. William Caldwell crossed the Ohio River and joined with natives in the area. Their hope was to draw as much of the Kentucky militia as possible into an ambush and destroy them. This would leave the settlements defenseless and make it possible drive the colonials back across the mountains.

The British plan was to attack Bryan’s Station with half their force, but would allow some of the settlers to escape and go for help. When help arrived they would fall back to a bend in the Licking River called the Blue Licks where the other half of their force would be hidden. It would be there they would spring the trap.

The attack against Bryan’s Station had the desired effect as 182 militia responded to the call for help. Among them where 44 men under command of now Lt. Col. Daniel Boone, including Boone’s son Israel.

With Col. John Todd in overall command, the officers quickly conferenced at Bryan’s Station to decide if they should go after the Indians or wait for additional help. Maj. Hugh McGary suggested they wait for Col. Ben Logan to arrive with his large force of 500 men.

Historians disagree, but either Todd or Boone said something to the effect of “What’s wrong McGary, you afraid to fight?” McGary sat quiet through the rest of the meeting but those words would come back to haunt whoever said them.

Fearing the Indians might escape and reach the safety of the Ohio River it was decided not to wait for Col. Logan but to strike out after their retreating foe and let the reinforcements catch-up.

As they trailed their enemy through the woods Boone noticed something was wrong. The Indians were leaving a very clear path behind them but walking in each others footsteps to hide their true number. This was a sure sign of an ambush.

After two days of following the trail, they reached the Licking River ford that would take them across to the Blue Licks. They could see a few Indians on top of the hill, a couple smoking pipes. The officers quickly gathered to come up with a plan of action. Boone said he was sure it was a trap and they should wait for Col. Logan and his men.

McGary had had his bravery questioned when he made that same suggestion earlier. Now he flew into a rage and shouted at Boone “I never saw any signs of cowardice about you before.” He then mounted his horse and as he started across the river yelled to the militia “Them that ain’t cowards follow me, and I’ll show you where the yellow dogs are.”

Several in the militia followed McGary across thus committing Col. Todd and Boone to the battle regardless of if they wanted it or not.

Once the militia crossed the river Col. Todd divided it into three companies with Lt. Col. Stephen Trigg commanding the right, Todd and McGary the center and Boone the left.

As the militia reached the top of the hill it seemed as if every tree and bush exploded as 300 Indians and 50 British rangers opened fire. Trigg and most of his company were killed in the opening volley. The center faired the same as Todd was wounded and soon died as the company was over run when the Indians charged out from the trees.

The left was a different story. Boone spotted the Indians and fired first. His company was driving the enemy back “elated with their success” when, ironically, it was McGary who came running by shouting “Boone, why are you not retreating?”

Boone looked around and saw everything to his right had been wiped-out. In addition, the Indians and rangers had gotten around behind and cut him off from the river ford. He ordered his men into the trees on their left and to run for the river.

While the survivors headed for the river, Boone and a couple of men, including his son Israel, were covering the retreat. As things got worse, Boone grabbed a horse and gave it to his son and told him to leave.

“Father, I won’t leave you,” was his son’s reply. Boone looked around for another horse when he heard a sound behind him and turned around to see his son fall, shot through the neck and blood rushing from his mouth. Boone saw that his son was dead and all was lost so he turned and ran for the river.

The militia from Boonesborough that were able to get away had gathered on the other side of the river and were firing back across the water at the Indians. Many men were missing, including Boone, and were feared dead. Suddenly the men heard a big splash down river. It was Boone making his escape.

Boone got the survivors back to Bryan’s Station and prepared to defend the fort. But there would be no attack as Logan and his force of 500 had arrived in the area.

The last major battle of the American Revolution was a British victory. It had cost the Kentucky militia 72 dead and 11 captured out of 182.

Five days later Boone and some of the men returned to the Blue Licks. They found the bodies of their dead rotting in the sun with the buzzards feasting on them. Many had been scalped and most of the bodies so mangled it was difficult to determine who was who. Boone was able to find the body of his son Israel and bury him. All over the hill some men were buried where they fell while about 40 were buried in a mass grave.

Although the Kentucky militia had been routed, it was not a complete victory for the British.

Col. Logan’s forces were soon joined by the forces of George Rogers Clark who was in overall command of the region. With more than 1,000 men, including Boone, Clark went after Caldwell’s rangers and Indians, but there would be no battle. The enemy, many of whom feared Clark, fled across the Ohio River without ever coming to blows.

The war was over and the settlers would remain in Kentucky.

Ned Jilton II is a page designer and photographer for the Times News as well as the writer of the “Marching with the 19th” Civil War series. You can contact him at [email protected]

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