Virginia Gov. Patrick Henry authorized Clark to attack the British fort of Kaskaskia (Illinois) in French-occupied territory on the Mississippi River. Clark set up a supply base at the Falls of the Ohio. Clark and his men surprised Kaskaskia on July 4, 1778, taking the fort and town without firing a shot. In coming months, Clark rallied support from the French while planning another bold move against the British at Fort Sackville in Vincennes.
“On February 23, they surprised Vincennes,” according to the Indiana Historical Bureau account. “Clark ordered that all of the company’s flags be marched back and forth behind a slight rise to convince the British that there were 600 men rather than under 200. They opened fire on the fort with such accuracy that the British were prevented from opening their gun ports.”
On Feb. 25, British Officer Henry Hamilton surrendered. The British never regained control and “American claims in the Old Northwest served as the basis of the cession of these lands to the United States at the Treaty of Paris in 1783.”
Clark spent much of his personal fortune on the war effort and was never repaid; he died in poverty and obscurity. His heroism is appropriately remembered at Clarksville and at Vincennes, where the National Park Service operates a memorial in his honor.
Andrea Neal is a teacher at St. Richard’s Episcopal School in Indianapolis and adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.