THE BATTLE OF BLUE LICKS
Ron D. Bryant
The Battle of Blue Licks has the combined drama of frontier warfare and the Revolutionary War. On August 19, 1782, nearly seventy Kentuckians died in what some historians have called the “Last Battle of the American Revolution.” While that claim is debatable, the struggle at Blue Licks embodies the conflict between the American Indian, Kentucky settlers, and the British Crown.
Although Lord Charles Cornwallis had surrendered British forces at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781, bringing to a close the major hostilities of the American Revolution, isolated conflicts between the Americans, British, and Indians still occurred. The Kentucky frontier experienced some of the bloodiest British and Indian raids of the war. With the surrender of Cornwallis, many Kentuckians hoped that the attacks on their homes and settlements had come to an end. Unknown to them, a large force of British and Indians had gathered at Old Chillicothe, Ohio, to prepare for a raid on the frontier settlements.
The British invasion force, made up of an estimated 1,100 men, included a number of Butler’s Rangers from Canada, along with Shawnee and Wyandot Indians. Their invasion plans had targeted Wheeling, West Virginia, but on their way there they received word that George Rogers Clark and the Americans had planned a possible attack on Shawnee territory. The majority of the Shawnee decided to return home to defend their homes. British commander William Caldwell and Captain Alexander McKee, along with sixty Canadians and about three hundred Indians, some Shawnee, Delaware, Chippewa, Mingo, Ottawa, and mostly Wyandot, changed their plans and decided to attack some of the Kentucky outposts. They chose Bryan’s Station, north of Lexington. On August 15, 1782, Caldwell’s force surrounded the fortified settlement. Seeing that Bryan’s Station had stronger defenses than anticipated, the British and Indians withdrew. The retreat from Bryan’s Station seemed to signal the beginning of the end of the British invasion of Kentucky.
When word of the attack on Bryan’s Station reached other Kentucky settlements, groups of militiamen prepared to come to their neighbor’s defense. Col. John Todd, commander of the Fayette County militia, raised a force of 180 men comprised of about 130 men from Lincoln County under the command of Lt. Col. Stephen Trigg, and about 45 men from Fayette County under the command of Lt. Col. Daniel Boone, to help repulse the enemy. Col. Benjamin Logan and a large force of militia were also on their way to assist their beleaguered fellow Kentuckians. By the time Todd and his militiamen arrived at Bryan’s Station the enemy had gone. Instead of waiting for Logan and reinforcements, Todd decided to pursue and overtake the British and Indians. His decision would be disastrous. While the British and the Indians had left Bryan’s Station intact, in reality they were waiting for the Kentuckians to catch up with them.