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Winter House: Chapter 4
Fiction by Christian Shuck Featured Image: Benson J. Lossing from The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812
From the diary of Captain Josiah Snelling January 11, 1812 The repairs to the walls of the fort are well underway. I feel as though we barely finished its construction before the earthquakes struck. From our vantage point, it appears minimal damage occured in Basevale, the small farming community at the bottom of our hill. We were able to complete the new bell tower, so will have capacity to sound an alarm should the need arise. This winter has been particularly harsh, and I fear morale is low. The earthquakes experienced on December 16th, 1811 shook both the foundations of our walls and our spirits. With General Harrison away at Tippecanoe, we have few men to complete any work. The cold has slowed our progress, but we persist nonetheless. I have dispatched a scout to send word of the damages we incurred with hope that General Harrison will be able to send some reinforcements. I do not anticipate an attack, but if I were the enemy, this is exactly the time I would consider it. Two days after the ground shook so violently beneath us, I ordered a short patrol to assess any territorial changes that might affect supply lines. Three miles south of our fort, a large crack in the ground was found. The patrol located the damaged area and gave witness to trees still hanging by their roots over the opening. Oddly enough a man was found near the crevice. He had very little clothing; odd for the time of year and being so far away from any farm. The men on patrol almost shot him on sight for believing him to be an Indian spy. The men returned with the injured wanderer, and I ordered he be given provisions. He made no claim to being from the region. I am cautious. Although, he is not Indian, and he is not British. Given the damages we have sustained as well as need for hands to help defend our position I determined his lack of allegiance to those parties a blessing. I hope that he will see my kindness and return the favor. January 15, 1812
I have managed to negotiate the help of some nearby settlers to hasten repairs to our walls. In return, I have agreed to let them take shelter within. Rumors of nearby tribes organizing to take our fortification have struck fear into these farmers. And though I dare not show it, I have felt their same level of uneasiness. Though it will be crowded, these people will bring with them much needed supplies, as well as able bodies. Our stranger has made a full recovery. Initially I thought him to be a Ranger, since he professed no affiliation with the British or Indians. He claims he is not, however, and remains rather secretive of his origins. Still, he has presented no threat and does not seem interested in our military initiative. He gave the name Benjamin Adermen. It is a most unusual surname; old British family name if I recall my studies. Despite some questions from my men, I have no reason to dismiss him. I can’t spare a healthy man, there is too much to be done. I will keep my conversations with him brief, and make certain any information brought to or from our fort is kept out of Mr. Adermen’s earshot. January 24, 1812 Another earthquake struck our region yesterday. The intensity was lower than what we experienced in December. Thankfully repairs to the west wall remained in tact. Some minor damage on the interior, shelves falling, that sort of thing. The most curious notation from the whole incident was the level of calm I perceived from Mr. Adermen. All current residents of the fort, soldiers and settlers alike, had some adverse reaction to the shaking. A leftover fear, perhaps, not shared by our guest because he was passed out during the last event. He is an odd individual who keeps to himself. He has graciously helped us repair our defenses and the men seem to like him well enough. Other than work and joining for meals, he remains on his cot in the barracks, never speaking to anyone. There has been no response from General Harrison. The dispatch I sent earlier this month has had enough time to reach Tippecanoe. I anticipate the scout’s return within the week. Hopefully, with a wagon of supplies. February 8, 1812 Another damned earthquake yesterday. This one came just before nightfall. The ground shook so vigorously one of my men witnessed waves crossing shore to shore in the Wabash River. I cannot say I have ever seen anything like it, and my man appeared quite disturbed from the experience. He claimed the west bank shook, causing sand and rock to break free. The waves moved west to east and indeed, upon later inspection, there were several fish washed up on the east bank of the river. We are so pressed for rations I ordered the fish be collected and brought back. If we cannot find peace within our own walls we will at least reap the benefits of such disaster. Mr. Adermen came to me this morning and asked if I wished the earthquakes to cease. I responded with the obvious response of yes, of course. He smiled at me and said all I needed to do was to promise him my first-born son. I laughed out loud, firstly at the fact that I have no wife or children. Secondly I thought the man to be completely mad. What a preposterous bargain to make! Seeing I was not agreeable, Mr. Adermen became rather cross. I assured him I meant no offense, and explained he must understand that such a proposition was completely out of the question. This is not ancient Egypt, I told him. I am not a man to be scared into superstition or believe that God has come to punish us for making camp on a hill in this territory. If anything, God should be thanking the army of these United States for bringing civility to this region. He merely smiled at me and then left my quarters. I have asked one of my men to keep an eye on Mr. Adermen, as I fear these experiences with nature are having quite some effect on him. At this time of crisis I cannot afford a madman ranting about the rapture to an already uneasy camp. From the diary of Captain Zachary Taylor August 13th, 1812 As assigned by General Harrison, I have taken command of Fort Harrison along the Wabash River. My accomplishments at Tippecanoe have warranted my promotion. I shall see to it that I serve well. It has been difficult not to take this assignment as an insult. My predecessor, Captain Snelling, has all but allowed this critical fortification to fall to ruin. By his reports, several earthquakes caused severe damage to the fort’s defenses and supplies. Despite a regiment of settlers and soldiers, repairs were barely completed. There is a great deal to make right at this encampment. Particularly in light of reports received of a gathering war party that consists of several Indian tribes. I have only fifty men at my command. Illness has reduced that number to half. Despite his faults, Captain Snelling’s negotiation with local farmers has provided additional provisions for the fort as well as extra hands. I have read the Captain’s reports and in his accounts he notes a man that was found after the first earthquake. A Mr. Adermen. This name is familiar to me, though I cannot place it. I shall seek him out and get to the bottom of this man’s origins.
I have seen many things on the battlefield. But I have never felt so much fear, or anger for that matter, in all my days. I shall be glad when the beast of a man is out of my encampment.
August 17th, 1812 In just a few short days as many men have recovered from illness as have incurred it. My garrison remains at half strength. A new report of this swelling Indian attack force points to our location as their focus. No doubt they too have scouted our forces and deemed them as pathetic as I have. A scout was sent out just this morning to Vincennes, requesting immediate support to prevent interruption of supply lines. If our position on the river is compromised, we will not be able to defend the capital to the south from any invading force. With regard to the origins of Mr. Adermen, I invited him to supper with me in my quarters. He shared he only has faint recollection of his beginnings. In his testimony he admitted that until he was found after the earthquake, he felt as though he had merely been sleeping. I inquired as to whether or not he felt loyalties toward the British Empire. He stated he felt no loyalty to anyone, and that he was staying within the fort to return the kindness shown to him by Captain Snelling. I thanked him for his assistance and asked what he expected to gain in the future. He smiled at me, which I will admit sent a shiver to my core, and he said that time will tell. I am a patient man, he said. I did not, and do not know what to make of this statement. September 3rd, 1812 A band of Miami Indians approached our fort this morning. They brought confirmation that a force of Indians numbering close to six hundred would be upon our location by tomorrow. I do not know how we will defend our position, as all but fifteen of my men are ill or injured. I fear the scout sent to bring word to Vincennes has been intercepted and we will not receive reinforcement. September 4th, 1812 I stood on the south wall today to see the warning given yesterday brought to fruition. The army of six hundred Indians did arrive. A party approached at mid-day, led by the Kickapoo Chief Namatowa, requesting a parley with me tomorrow. Rather than risk the few lives I have left under my command, I accepted. Mr. Adermen approached me with an odd proposition. He said that if I wished to win the battle against this invading force, I need only promise him my first born son. I explained that he already knew of my only daughter, Ann, and that I had no sons. I had a guard called in to remove Adermen from my quarters as I needed to prepare for the discussion tomorrow. As my guard reached for Adermen’s shoulder, the man smiled, and the guard instantly became ill. He vomited on the floor, and collapsed, complaining of stomach pain. I called for the surgeon at once, but Mr. Adermen prevented him from opening the door. He said that he would accept the life of another child. I told him he was fully mad, and that I would not make such an arrangement, for my child or any other. I ordered him to pack his things and be gone by the end of the day. He then allowed the door to be opened and my surgeon was able to see to my guard’s illness. I have seen many things on the battlefield. But I have never felt so much fear, or anger for that matter, in all my days. I shall be glad when the beast of a man is out of my encampment. September 8th, 1812 We are besieged. A fire was set in the supply house on the night of September 4th. All but a few bushels of corn were destroyed. A great portion of the fortified wall was also destroyed. I had invalids on stretchers firing guns from the walls as the able-bodied men repaired the breach. We have been able to hold off the attackers though I could scarcely say how. I watched as the Indian force retreated out of firing range. We could see them decimating livestock on nearby farms for food. Though we have pressed them backward, all they need do is wait until we have all starved to death. I have failed the mission of this fortification and the soldiers and settlers within it. Once we have fallen, there will be no aid traveling south to Vincennes, or north as reinforcements. September 9th, 1812 Though I believe I myself may be going mad, I feel the need to make record of last night’s dream. It was so vivid, and I so exhausted, I cannot say what was real or imagined. After returning to my quarters from examining repairs to defenses, a knock came at the door. I was stunned to see Mr. Adermen standing with a lantern in the doorway. The light touched his face in such a way the shadows left a permanent smile on his face. Mr. Adermen said that his offer still stood. If I wished the siege to end, I need only promise him a child. I laughed at his smiling face. The absurdity of his offer made me wonder if I indeed was conversing with the devil himself. He stood firm, and looked me in the eye. I was certain he was serious, but lacking the endurance to continue the conversation I waved him off and told him, yes, he could have whatever he wanted. We are all going to die, what difference will it make? September 12th, 1812 I cannot believe it. A force of one thousand men led by Colonel William Russell arrived today from Vincennes. The regiment was made up of Colonel Russell’s soldiers, the 7th Infantry Regiment and a company of Indiana Rangers. At the news of the approaching force, the Indian army dispersed. The siege is over. I can only assume the scout I dispatched weeks ago managed to escape, and get word to the post at Vincennes. Colonel Russell was on his way to meet the Governor of the Illinois Territory. The Colonel informed me that for maintaining the fort throughout this crisis, I shall receive a brevet promotion to Major. I am grateful for the promotion, but am disappointed to learn I will not receive higher pay. I am confident in my ability, though, to make use of this opportunity to propel myself further in my career. Christian Shuck is a Greencastle native and Hope College alumnus who works in higher education as a major gift officer. Besides his contributions here, he also writes for his own blog cmshuckstories.com. He currently lives in Terre Haute.