This book looks at the events of Lord Dunmore's War, a clash between Virginian settlers and a largely Shawnee army, fought in the Ohio valley on the eve of the American War of Independence. The war was fought for control of the area east and south of the Ohio River, at the time a largely uninhabited wilderness, left empty as a result of the forty-year long Beaver War, fought between the Iroquois and other Native American tribes. That war ended in 1701, and the areas west and north of the river were soon reoccupied, but the area east and south remained almost empty. The area was claimed by the Iroquois and the Cherokee, but in 1768 both groups sold their claims in the area to the British. Unsurprisingly the local Shawnee, north of the Ohio, didn't recognise this sale, which took away part of their hunting grounds.
Indian hunting parties and the most adventurous American settlers ventured into the area, which was also contested between Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland, while other speculators wanted to found a new state with the unpromising name of Vandalia (At this stage Virginia stretched west as far as the Ohio River, and most of the contested area ended up within that state, although the western area separated to form Kentucky soon after the War of Independence and most of the area allocated to Vandalia ended up in West Virginia).
The war took place at the same time as the political events that triggered the War of Independence. The Boston Tea Party took place late in 1773, and the First Continental Congress met while the expedition was underway. The Battles of Concord & Lexington, which marked the outbreak of open fighting, took place early in 1775. The members of the expedition must have been somewhat distracted by their worries about events back east.
The composition of the Virginian Army probably helped focus minds. The army was led by Lord Dunmore, the British governor of Virginia, but all of the troops were Virginian militiamen. None of the expensive regular troops whose costs were part of the problem actually took part in the expedition.
On the Indian side the majority of the troops came from the Shawnee, with a strong Mingo contingent. The other Ohio tribes refused to take part, and so the Indians were outnumbered. Even so this campaign came in a period when the Indians tended to inflict more casualties than they suffered in wilderness warfare (although not to the same extent as in earlier wars), and when Dunmore chose to advance in two columns they were given a chance to defeat his force in detail.
The text is very balanced between the two points of view, with very good use of the Indian sources, not always the case in books on this period. As a result we understand the overall strategy of the Indian commanders, their tactics at Point Pleasant, and why they lost. Although the Indians were outnumbered at Port Pleasant, by the standards of the time they actually had enough men to have won, so this is an interesting subject.
The account of the fighting itself is clear and well written, and the text is supported by good maps and plenty of photos showing the campaign area today. This is a very good account of a battle that came at the end of an era - the last officially British-led campaign against Indians on the American frontier before Independence.
The Campaign and Battle
The Battlefield Today
Author: John F Winkler