(Editor's note: Fourth in a series)
Dr. James Livingood, UTC historian, discussed the last battle of the American Revolution in excerpts from his "Chattanooga, An Illustrated History":
"Militiamen assembled in upper East Tennessee; no draft was needed as volunteers took up the cause. On April 10, 1779, they embarked in boats on the Tennessee River — there may have been 900 men in the area's first naval operation. In the valley of South Chickamauga Creek they put the torch to 11 [Indian] villages, destroyed the spring crops, rounded up horses, and carried off booty from John McDonald's stand. One part of the army continued on down the Tennessee River to join George Rogers Clark in his dramatic campaign in the Old Northwest.
"[Col. Evan] Shelby's scorched-earth policy had little permanent effect; the Chickamaugas' manpower losses were slight and crops were replanted. Dragging Canoe, however, correctly assessed the result. His villages lay exposed to attack. In a second trek, the Chickamaugas in large number moved around the base of Chatanuga Mountain (Lookout) into the river canyon and beyond. Some rebuilt the older towns; but under the protection of the mountains where the river's troubled waters helped maintain control, the warriors established new villages collectively known as the Five Lower Towns — Running Water, Nickajack, Long Island, Lookout Mountain, and Crow towns. Their rear guard offensive in the Revolution was far from over; John McDonald moved with the Canoe, and the flow of war supplies from Florida still passed through the area's southern gateway.
"Shelby's punitive expedition had little effect on the use of the stream. Within the year, Chickamauga braves sighted a large flotilla of flatboats moving downstream. Ignoring the wartime hazards, the settlement party sailed with a large crowd of women and children toward new homes on the exposed Cumberland River frontier. They chose the treacherous unknown currents of the river and the wrath of marauding Indians rather than the overland route from East Tennessee, which most of the men had taken earlier with their livestock. The Adventure, an appropriately named craft with John Donelson as master, served as flagship; it carried among others the skipper's family, including young daughter Rachel, who later became the wife of Andrew Jackson.
"On March 8th the squadron started its run through the Chattanooga area into the valley of the whirlpools, drawing fire from redmen hidden among the canebrakes. One craft with 28 people aboard sailed in the rear because of a self-imposed smallpox quarantine. The Indians intercepted this flatboat, killing or capturing the entire party.
"The Chickamaugas tormented the voyagers from the riverbanks as they sailed by until the boats started their run through the Suck, where they fired from the bluffs overhead. One craft, while battling the relentless currents, ran aground, partly filled with water, and had to be left behind with the frightened family of Jonathan Jennings.
"The new and badly exposed Cumberland settlements [in the Five Lower Towns] immediately became the prime target of the Chickamaugas. These plans led to clever ambushes at river fords and mountain passes and by well-worn trails. The warriors of Dragging Canoe burned cabins, killed pioneer families, and returned to the mountain fastness of their villages with captives, slaves, and stolen horses. Their sneak assaults by 1782 were so widespread and violent that in June the governor of North Carolina wrote:
"'A tribe of Cherokees called the Chicamoggies, instigated by British emissaries and tory refugees, have been very troublesome in murdering many peaceful families of this state and Virginia. I am about to form an expedition to extirpate them if possible from that country if they cannot be reclaimed '
"The next month the legislature authorized the campaign against Dragging Canoe's towns: ' all the males therein to be killed. And the females captured for exchange; supplies to be divided among the soldiers participating.' Expenses paid in 'continental credit' gave the expedition official status.
"A small force of transmountain men finally moved toward the Chickamauga stronghold under the frontier fighter and leader of men, Colonel John Sevier. They burned Chickamauga towns east of Lookout Mountain and were baited by the taunts of Bloody Fellow and other Indians from the opposite cliffs of Lookout. The frontiersmen answered the challenge — they crossed the river and scrambled up the boulder-strewn mountainside. A brisk fight followed before the Chickamaugas slipped away through the undergrowth. The date was September 20, 1782, some 11 months after the war's end at Yorktown, when Sevier's militiamen fought the British-backed Indians in an engagement now designated as the last battle of the American Revolution."
For more visit chattahistoricalassoc.org.