On this day in 1782, the Battle of Blue Licks is fought. The conflict occurred exactly 10 months after Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown, and it has been called the “Last Battle of the American Revolution.” Unfortunately, the battle went very badly for American forces.
Good thing we’d already won the war?!
Just a few days earlier, Kentuckians had outlasted a force of British and American Indians at the Siege of Bryan’s Station. (See August 15 history post.) The siege was led by British Captain William Caldwell, and it continued even after an initial relief force arrived from Lexington and attempted to help. When Caldwell heard that still more militia were on their way, he decided to abandon the siege on August 17.
Kentucky militia led by Colonel John Todd arrived on August 18. Another name you’ll recognize was present, too: Lt. Colonel Daniel Boone!
Todd had a decision to make: Should he wait for another group of militia, then headed their way? Or should he pursue the British and Indian force? The decision that he made would cost him dearly. He opted for pursuit, apparently even ridiculing one officer who wanted to wait.
The group caught up with the British and Indians at Licking River. Boone worried that the trail left by the Indians had been too easy to follow. He also had experience with the area and knew that there were plenty of places to hide and ambush an enemy. Were they being set up?
Someone spotted a few Indian scouts on the other side of the river. The officer who had earlier suggested waiting for reinforcements apparently did not want to be thought a coward a second time. He reportedly charged into the river, waving his hat and yelling: “All those who are not cowards, follow me!” In the meantime, Boone still thought it was a trap. Legend has it that he commented, “We are all slaughtered men,” even as he joined the charge. If his men were determined to rush headlong into an ambush, he would at least attempt to lead them in some sort of orderly attack.
Boone was right. It was a trap. The Kentucky force was soon under attack. The battle was over in 15 minutes. Colonel Todd was killed.
Boone’s son, Israel, was with him at the battle. Boone tried to get his son on a riderless horse, but Israel refused to retreat without his father. During the delay, Israel was shot through the neck. Poor Daniel Boone had to leave his mortally wounded son on the field while he led others to safety.
Boone would join a retaliatory raid into the Ohio Country several months later.
Naturally, that is a story for another day.
Blue Licks Battlefield History (Kentucky State Parks website)
J. Norman Heard, Handbook of the American Frontier: Vol. I: The Southeastern Woodlands (1987)
John A. McClung, Sketches of Western Adventure: Containing an Account of the Most Interesting Incidents Connected with the Settlement of the West, from 1755 to 1794 (Cincinnati, U.P. James 1839)
Reuben T. Durrett et al., Siege of Bryan's Station and the Battle of Blue Licks (2011)
Spencer C. Tucker, Almanac of American Military History (2013) (Vol. I).