Retreat along the Wabash

Words: Martha Keller
Music: Juanita Coulson
Source: Brady's Bend and Other Ballads
MIDI file

[An almost word for word account of General St. Clair's defeat in 1791 as given in the journal of Benjamin Van Cleve, packhorseman.]

Tell the truth to a man you trust,
The truth to a man you fear.
Lie to a woman because you must.
But since whatever you do or say
He'll never believe you anyway -
Lie, lie, lie to a General
Lie to a Brigadier.

With one small regular regiment,
A couple of six-month levies,
And green militiamen - off he went.
He would pay no head to advices lent.
A few of his guns was heavies.

Not till after the day was done
And after he was defeated,
Not till after he'd learned to run
Would the General listen to anyone -
Though some of the words were heated.

Licked, defeated and put to rout -
But he wouldn't be shook nor shaken,
Wouldn't hark to an Indian scout,
Wouldn't be putting of pickets out
Till all of his guns was taken.

For he stood us up where the woods was thin,
Up where there wasn't cover,
Was not cover to hide a pin.
We was bunched together and herded in
Like quail in a field cut over.

And laying in every bog and bush
As still as a snake in hiding,
Hunting the covey they had to flush,
The Indians come like a rattler's rush
A-slithering and a-sliding.

You'd never a sign of them hair nor hide,
But the smoke of their guns a-shifting,
Till the fellow next to you fell and dies,
And he hadn't his hair, and his eyes was wide.
Or you saw a war-axe lifting.

I was a suttler, not a shot,
But the both of my bays was mired.
So I grabbed the gun of a Wyandot,
And fired with it till the bands got hot,
And all of the slugs was fired.

Short on fodder for man and beast,
Our powder poor or missing,
We were cold and sick when our firing ceased,
Sicker still when their bullets creased
The air with a hornet's hissing.

So some of us stole the General's rum,
Drank it, and hugged a dearie
That followed the camp. Yet our hearts were numb,
For all of us knew that our time was come -
Though the wait for it was weary.

But we up and charged them over again,
There by the muddy water,
Till we couldn't stomach the sight of men,
Six of us out of every ten,
Stuck like a pig at slaughter.

So we turned and run for it after a while,
Run from the field like rabbits.
And the Indians followed us mile on mile,
Indian fashion in Indian file,
Pursuing their Indian habits.

I dropped my shoes when the ache began,
So the leg cramps would not bind me.
And the icy ground give me strength to run.
But I saw them scalping us one by one
Not a hundred yards behind me.

Whoever was hurt or old or sick,
Whoever was lost or laggard,
The rest of us left where the woods was thick -
And ran like deer at a snapping stick.
But the eyes of us all was haggard.

The Captain, Corporal, Red-headed Nance,
And I, four birds of a feather,
We followed the rout of the regiment.
And I carried the Captain's accoutrement
As we all limped back together.

Nance, she leaned on my other side,
And her heart it broke between her.
Whenever she thought of her child she cried.
And the Corporal wept for his wife that died,
Wept for the way he'd seen her.

The Captain leaned on the Corporal,
For the road was mucked and muddy -
Leaned on him like a blockhouse wall,
Leaned on him so he wouldn't fall,
For all of his side was bloody.

Few we were and we'd far to go ....
Forsaken and forgotten,
We left the men that we used to know,
Like pumpkin heads in a field of snow -
Dead and red and rotten.

Where the banks of the Wabash almost meet,
High up in a little hollow,
We limped along on our bloody feet
With never a drum to beat retreat,
Never a fife to follow.

Causes of Rebellion by Astra of the Grey Shadows

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