Date: July 1, 1776 through December 1782.
Opposing Forces: British (Indians): 4,000; American: (Militia) 4,000.
The following is an excerpt from the book Guide to the Battles of the American Revolution written by Theodore Savas and J. David Dameron.
British Perspective: After the French and Indian War the colonists were supposed to stay on their side of the line agreed upon in the Proclamation of 1763. That did not happen and caused much hostility with the natives on the frontier.
Once the American Revolution began, many northern Indian tribes, including the Mohawk, Shawnee, and Ottawa, made pacts with the British who, in turn, encouraged the southern tribes to also ally with them. Some Cherokee tribal factions did work with and ally themselves with these Indians along the Ohio River, but most of the southern Cherokee remained neutral. However, British Indian agents Alexander Cameron, Henry Stuart, and John McDonald supported the Chickamauga Cherokee and Chief Dragging Canoe. Many of the Tory sympathizers in and around the frontier settlements provided the Indians with intelligence concerning Patriot settlements and outposts. On several occasions Tories dressed as Indians and joined them on their raids. Despite various peace treaties, throughout the war Indian war parties and punitive expeditions conducted by the whites made the frontier in the Southern colonies a brutally contested campaign. Chief Dragging Canoe and several thousand Cherokee warriors made a pact with the Shawnee and waged war against the settlers throughout the remainder of the war (and for many years thereafter).
American Perspective: Just as the war with England got underway in 1775, the pioneers in the southern reaches of the colonies achieved a peace treaty with the Cherokee. The Henderson Purchase opened former Indian lands to white settlements and new opportunities. Richard Henderson, the man who brokered the deal, was nothing more than a land speculator, and legal issues concerning the transaction’s validity festered. Legal or not, men like Daniel Boone (who worked for Henderson) led settlers into the fertile lands of Kentucky and Tennessee to establish homesteads. As promised by Chief Dragging Canoe, the settlements became targets for the Indians, which in turn prompted settlers to conduct retaliatory raids. The result was a vicious though low-profile backwoods fight waged simultaneously with the larger and more visible campaigns of the American Revolution.
Battles of the Cherokee Campaigns Facts: The Fighting
Numerous battles were waged during this campaign and precise information about them is vague at best; many important details were never recorded. Most of the confrontations involved one side or the other conducting surprise raids against an enemy camp or settlement. Throughout the summer of 1776, the Indians conducted an offensive campaign with approximately 4,000 warriors. While the Indians had the element of surprise, the settlers were prepared because frontier scouts detected the large scale movements days before they descended upon the white settlements. Most of the attacks were launched piecemeal by disjointed bands against settlers protected within log palisades. July and August of 1776, however, witnessed the western edge of the frontier (from present-day Sullivan County, Tennessee in the north as far south as Abbeville County, South Carolina), erupt in bloody violence.
British Agent Alexander Cameron accompanied a 2,000-man Indian war party into South Carolina, where it joined with several hundred Tories dressed as Indians. They attacked Lyndley’s Fort on July 15, but the 600 defenders were able to hold the stronghold and beat back the assault. During the next few weeks Indians terrorized much of the Upcountry. Although they killed many people, their objective of driving out the white settlers failed miserably because the Indian summer 1776 offensive lacked a coherent plan and utilized disjointed methods.
Farther north, meanwhile, Dragging Canoe led his main war party against the settlements at Fort Watauga and Eaton’s Fort in modern-day East Tennessee. The pioneer militiamen were ready and Fort Watauga survived a three-week siege by the Indians before the effort was abandoned. Farther north at Long Island Flats on the Holston River, the militiamen were positioned west of Eaton’s Station. On July 20, the militia attacked the enemy as the Indians moved toward the fort in a fight known today as the Battle of Long Island Flats. Many of the Indians were killed, Dragging Canoe was wounded, and the result was a resounding victory for the white settlers. During the next few weeks the Indians attempted similar operations against forts and outposts in southwestern Virginia, with the same disappointing results.
After the Indian offensive of 1776, the militias of all the associated Southern colonies initiated punitive expeditions against the Cherokee villages. Marching and riding into Cherokee lands from their respective colonies, the Americans combined forces deep in Indian Territory at Hiwassee, Tennessee, on September 26. The united force of 4,000 men pillaged and burned Indian villages throughout the area to eliminate the Cherokee threat. An unknown number of Indians (including women and children) were slaughtered. Conservative estimates suggest the American militia suffered 300 casualties, but the Cherokee lost several thousand.
The bloody expedition convinced the Cherokee to sign a peace treaty. Dragging Canoe and the Chickamauga branch of the Cherokee refused to discuss peace or surrender. Colonel George Rogers Clark, meanwhile, conducted his expedition against the Indians in the north along the Ohio River, an effort designed to keep most of the northern and southern tribes separated and thus weak. For the next few years, harassing raids by the Chickamauga (who ultimately banded with the Shawnee and white Tories) continued terrorizing Patriot settlements.
In 1779 and 1780, Col. Isaac Shelby and Col. John Sevier launched raids deep into Chickamauga territory, burning villages and destroying vast amounts of property. Female hostages were taken and male warriors were killed. Dragging Canoe and his followers, however, continued their own operations against white settlements. During the summer of 1779, Colonel Shelby traveled as far south as Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, and attacked Chickamauga villages throughout the area, destroying crops, killing braves, and taking hostages. Dragging Canoe and his band escaped by dissolving into the forest, only to emerge again after Shelby’s offensive ended. On December 16, 1780, Colonel Sevier and a large contingent of militiamen attacked a large camp of Indian warriors at Boyd’s Creek (Sevierville, Tennessee). The victory was decisive and came just two months after the stunning militia victory at Kings Mountain against Loyalist troops.
On April 2, 1781, Dragging Canoe led an assault against the settlers at Fort Nashborough (present-day Nashville, Tennessee), which nearly ended in a disaster for the white frontiersmen, who beat back the assault at a very high cost. While these battles constituted significant military victories for the white settlers, they were difficult to follow up because the Indians simply vanished by moving deeper into the forest, only to reappear later to launch counterstrikes.
The preceding was an excerpt from the book Guide to the Battles of the American Revolution written by Theodore Savas and J. David Dameron.
Battles of the Cherokee Campaigns Facts: Online Resources
- Wikipedia – Cherokee – American Wars
- Guide to the Battles of the American Revolution
- Library of Congress Collection of Revolutionary War Maps
- West Point Battle Maps of the American Revolution
- Journal of the American Revolution
- DIY Genealogy – Finding your Revolutionary War Ancestor
- The History Junkie’s Guide to the American Revolutionary War
- The History Junkie’s Guide to American Revolutionary War Battles
- The History Junkie’s Guide to the American Revolutionary War Timeline
- The History Junkie’s Guide to the 13 Original Colonies