Category: Ride Ideas (page 1 of 7)

Short ideas for rides without the detail of a Premium Ride Guide

Parliament Defeats Royalists at Battle of Langport 10 July 1645

English Civil War Wraps up in the Southwest

By July 1645, Royalist fortunes were on the wane and Lord Goring was using all of his strategic wiles to evade the confident New Model Army under Lord-General Fairfax. Knowing that Fairfax outnumbered him nearly two to one, Goring sent 3 cavalry Brigades under Lieutenant General Porter to threaten the nearby Parliamentary town of Taunton, probably as a diversion, in the hopes of dividing Fairfax’s force. However, Fairfax caught up to Goring after capturing most of Goring’s cavalry diversion between Langport and Taunton. Fairfax came to the battle weaker than ideal, but still with the determination to break up Goring’s force for good.

Battle of Langport

Goring took up an easterly facing position on Ham Down northeast of Langport overlooking the Wagg Rhyne, a small stream running generally north to south. Fairfax approached from the east (follow Tengore Lane for a good simulation of the movement) and occupied a westerly facing position on Pitney Hill, also overlooking the Wagg Rhyne. The two positions straddle the present day B3153. There was an obvious “pass” and/or ford over the Wagg, which both forces identified as the key terrain to own. There are 3 credible geographic points (on the A372, on the B3153 and an ancient footpath near the railway underpass) for the pass and academic debate is far from settled on the issue. Up to this point in research and on the ground viewing, Battlefield Biker reckons it is the middle one near the present day railway underpass. There is a footpath that leads right through the likely pass and up Ham Down.

Goring placed artillery, cavalry and musket over-watching the pass, the narrowness of which gave him confidence of holding. Wasting no time in taking the obvious action, Fairfax took out the Royalist artillery with his own and then ordered Cromwell to take the pass and press the attack up Ham Down. The pass only allowed a 4 horse abreast attack. Under fire from Goring’s over-watch, the lead troops of Cromwell’s cavalry, led by Major Bethel were able to secure the pass and deploy on the slopes of the Down. The Roundhead infantry followed and established the fighting in earnest.

After some fairly fierce fighting on the Down, the Royalists were broken and they retreated whilst setting Langport alight. This did not stop Cromwell, who chased the fleeing Royalist through Langport and beyond.

Ride Recommendation

Here is a nice, relaxing ride of 33.4 miles. The route leads down to Langport and its environs. On the Wagg Drove you are bisecting the battlefield. Around Langport you can get several viewing angles of the battlefield from Ham Down, Wagg Drove and Pitney Hill. The ride finishes at the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton. Use Ordnance Survey Explorer 129. The battlefield is centred on ST 441276. If using a road map, the battlefield is located 15 miles east of Taunton.

Stand Watie Born 12 December 1806

Confederate General Stand Watie was born near Rome, Georgia. He was the son of a full-blooded Cherokee chief and a half-blooded White/Cherokee mother. Watie was part of the Cherokee tribe that voted to move to the Indian Territory. Watie survived the tribe’s Trail of Tears march in the 1830s and became the only Native American to achieve the rank of general during the Civil War.

Stand Watie  – Early Civil War Years

Watie was the Colonel of the 2nd Cherokee Mounted Rifles in the Battle of Pea Ridge or Elkhorn Tavern where they took Union artillery and covered the Confederate retreat at the end of the end of the three day battle. Watie would later lead his Cherokee at the First Battle of Cabin Creek in 1863 and then  on the raid that took the Union steamboat J.R. Williams in 1864.

Stand Watie – Promotion to Brigadier General and Later Civil War Years

Also in 1864, Watie was promoted to Brigadier General and put in command of a brigade of native American troops comprised mainly of Cherokee, but also of other tribes from the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma). Watie was most famous for the Second Battle (or Raid) of Cabin Creek in northeastern Oklahoma where Watie’s unit raided a Union supply shipment that severely disrupted Union operations in the area. BG Stand Watie was also notable as being the last Confederate General to surrender at the end of the Civil War.

Brigadier General Stand Watie is a good reminder that American History is not nearly as clear cut in terms of identities, alliances, and allegiances as some would try to make us believe.

Motorcycle Ride

Try Oklahoma State Route 82 from around Vinita to Vian to sample the area of operations that Watie worked in. To see the ground of the Second Battle of Cabin Creek, turn west onto Oklahoma State Route 28, near Langley, and go to Pensacola, OK, you will find the battlefield about 3 and a half miles north of Pensacola. The battlefield is near Pensacola, OK. It might make a good ride out from Tulsa, OK (~60 miles), Bentonville, AR (~70 miles), University of Arkansas (~85 miles) or maybe a longer ride from Branson, MO (~150 miles), if you happen to be in any of those places.

Battle of Pea Ridge or Elkhorn Tavern 6-8 March 1862

By the end of 1861, the Union forces had secured Missouri by routing the Missouri militia that favored secession. In early 1862, the Union commander, General Samuel Curtis moved his Army of the Southwest into northwest Arkansas to take the fight to the Confedrates and secure Missouri from Rebel cross border incursions.

Newly appointed Confederate Army of the West commander, General Earl Van Dorn decided to take his numerically superior, but logistically inferior forces to the northwest of Arkansas and push the Union back onto the back foot in both Arkansas and Missouri.

After several skirmishes in February and early March, 1862, Curtis settled on favorable ground to the east of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. Van Dorn knew it was a good position, so decided to split his forces in an attempt to draw Curtis into a weaker position.

Battle of Pea Ridge or Elkhorn Tavern

On day one of the battle, Curtis took the north and west of the position by heading off a flanking movement. The day was carried by the quick movement of the Union forces, the loss of two Confedrate Generals and the capture of a Colonel. Van Dorn led the other Confederate column to take the south and east near Elkhorn Tavern. On day two, Curtis regrouped and attacked Elkhorn tavern with heavy artillery support. Van Dorn held the position but at a tremendous cost in casualties and ammunition and eventually had to retreat and leave the position to Curtis.

The Union continued to hold the area and the strategically important state of Missouri for most of the rest of the war.

Stand Watie

Side note: One of the Confederate leaders at Pea ridge was Stand Watie who commanded the Cherokee Mounted Rifles. Watie was a pro-treaty Cherokee who had survived the Trail of Tears move from the Carolinas/Tennessee/Georgia homelands to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Watie would later be promoted to Brigadier General and become the only Native American General on either side of the Civil War. After Pea Ridge, Watie commanded a brigade of Native Americans for the Confederacy. He and his troops participated in many battles and campaigns for the South.

Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Begin or end your ride with the online tour of the battlefield. Outside of the Pea Ridge Battlefield National Military Parkpark take a through the loop ride through the Hobbs State Park and around Beaver Lake.

Photo Credit: By Kurz and Allison [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pancho Villa Attacks Columbus, New Mexico 9 March 1916

In the early morning hours of 9 March 1916, Mexican rebel leader Francisco “Pancho” Villa led a band of Mexican Revolutionaries across the USA / Mexico border on an attack of Columbus, New Mexico.

The background intrigue is far more interesting than the actual battle battle between Villa and the US 13th Cavalry who were stationed nearby. US President Woodrow Wilson had tried to manipulate Mexican leaders by supporting opposition leaders and rebels. Wilson had supported opposition leader Venustiano Carranzo when dictator Victoriano Huerta was in power. However, when Carranzo took power, Wilson didn’t like him either, so he supported Villa and his “Villistas,” even though Villa was a known bandit and murderer. When Carranzo changed a bit and began to court Wilson’s administration for support, the US President switched again. Thereafter, Wilson allowed Carranzo to use US railways and jumping off points to fight Villa’s forces. This enraged Villa.

Pancho Villa Attacks Columbus, New Mexico

Villa decided to attack the town of Columbus, New Mexico, just across the Mexican border. The 13th US Cavalry was totally surprised by the attack, but responded quickly to the fire once heard by setting up two machine guns at key points in the town. The Villistas were hit hard with around 75 killed. 18 civilians were also killed in the business district of town.

This singular event has very little lasting military significance, but what happened next is what is remembered. Wilson appointed General John (Blackjack) Pershing to chase down Villa in Mexico with the limited approval from Carranzo. Two years later, Villa remained on the run, but the campaign limited his actions severely and he was never able to attack the US again. However, Villa was a popular hero in Mexico for “standing up to the man” and the Carranzo government eventually had to rescind the permission to chase Villa in Mexico.

Pershing went on to lead the American Expeditionary Force in France at the end of World War I.

Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Try this ride from El Paso, Texas along the Mexican border to Columbus, New Mexico then circle back to El Paso through southeastern New Mexico to get a feel for the area. You can check out the
Pancho Villa State Park at Columbus which is on the old site of Camp Furlong where the 13th Cavalry was based.

Image Credit:

By OSCAR (US Military Sources) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Battle of Neuve Chapelle 10-13 March 1915

By early 1915, the lines in northern France had become static and the trench warfare that WWI is known for had commenced. Many soldiers and officers found themselves not only green, but found their senior leadership green in the tactics of the trench as well. New ideas had to be considered and new tactics developed to break the enemy lines for any offensive to succeed. The British First Army, under the command of the often maligned General Douglas Haig, was given the task of taking the immediate German positions, Neuve Chapelle and finally Aubers ridge. The First Army was made up of British, Canadian, and Indian troops.

Although the battle is not often associated with the major battles of the First World War, it is highly significant in the analysis of the planning, technology, and tactical advances of the time. The battle exhibited major breakthroughs in four key areas.

  • The German lines were mapped extensively by aerial reconnaissance by a British air arm that was in its infancy. This allowed;
  • Detailed maps to be distributed to the ground forces which contained phase lines and timed intervals for movements which were co-ordinated with;
  • Air support in the attack and;
  • Heavy artillery preparation of targets in advance with the lifting and shifting of fires in time with infantry movements. More rounds were sent skyward in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle than in all of the Boer War.
Battle of Neuve Chapelle

These innovations paid off at first with Haig taking the immediate objective of the German line salient and then the village of Neuve Chapelle. However, the attack bogged down soon thereafter, well before reaching the final objective of the Aubers ridge. A competent German counter-attack was partly the cause, but unforced errors also came into play. There were several tactical explanations for the halt that are common to many battlefields;

  • Poor weather on the second day limited aerial observation and support which contributed to;
  • Poor communications that kept the leadership from knowing where things were progressing properly and where they weren’t which led to;
  • Bad tactical intelligence that led some areas to be allotted more troops than needed and others less than needed which led to;
  • The fog of war where things tend to freeze on the senior decision level, but local fighting goes on, but is uncoordinated with the larger picture.

The battle was a limited tactical win for the British, but at a heavy cost of approximately 12,000 casualties. In the longer term Neuve Chapelle became the professional template for a new set of tactics that would become prevalent for the rest of the war.

Map credit – New York Times “Current History”. The European War, Vol. 2 No. 2, May 1915.
Downloaded from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/15479

Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

This is a great ride when you are going somewhere else in France. It is only 60 miles from Calais and can be seen on the way to the south of France, Paris or Belgium with only a minor detour. From Calais, head to Neuve Chapelle, then take the following circular ride of the area. This is not a spectacularly scenic ride, but you get to ride along the British front line from Neuve Chapelle to Fleurbaix (with a British Cemetary in Fauquissart), then see the Aubers ridge objective, then down to the pivot point in the line at La Bassee.

Battle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina 15 March 1781

The early part of the American Revolutionary War was fought mostly in the North of the colonies, but after a series of defeats, the British decided to focus on the southern colonies in their persistent belief that Loyalist sympathies ran deeper there than the North. The British had built up a string of victories in the south by early 1781 by chasing down southern militias and defeating them one by one. General Washington sent one of his best Generals, Nathaniel Greene south to revive the Patriot effort. Greene had tried to separate his forces and hoped to catch the British off guard by making them attack him piecemeal. This had had some success, namely at Cowpens two months earlier, but it was getting harder and harder to avoid a major showdown with the British main force. After strategically retreating across South and North Carolina and preserving his force, Greene decided to turn and face his pursuer, Redcoat General Lord Cornwallis. Cornwallis was sure that if he could corner Greene’s force and inflict a decisive defeat on the Rebels, he could soon claim the American south for the British cause. The field for this critical battle was in the small hamlet of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina.

Battle of Guildford Courthouse

On the cold morning of 15 March 1781, Greene deployed his mixed militia and Continental Army force of approximately 4,500 in three lines in depth. The first line was North Carolina militia, the second Virginia militia and the final line was mainly Continentals. Cornwallis took his 1,900 British and German professional soldiers and attacked head on, breaking through the first line quickly, but with serious losses that he could ill afford. The second line held longer and bled the British further. However, the British broke through and finally reached the Continentals where a fierce give and take erupted with attacks and counter-attacks. The resulting mass of fighting men confused the situation to the point that Cornwallis felt that he needed to break up the two armies with grape shot fired into the middle of it. The artillery killed indiscriminately, but had the intended effect of separating the armies. At this point, Greene decided to pull away and save his force. Cornwallis stood victorious on the field, but strategically hamstrung.

From this victory, Cornwallis headed for the coast for re-supply for his depleted force. The condition of his army led him to begin his doomed Virginia campaign which would end later in the year with his surrender at Yorktown.

Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Check out this ride that leads to the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park through the Colonial Heritage Byway.

Andrew Jackson Horseshoe Bend Battle, Creek War, 27 March 1814

Creek War

The Creek War was part of the War of 1812, because the Americans believed, with good reason, that the British and Spanish were coaxing the Red Stick (anti-US) Creeks along with supplies and guidance. The fact that the Tohopeka (Horseshoe Bend) stronghold on the Tallapoosa River in Alabama was fortified with European style battlements re-enforced this belief.

After the tactically brutal and ugly fights at Emuckfaw and Enitachopco in January 1814, Andrew Jackson gathered his new forces and had another go at the Red Stick Creeks led by the Prophet Monahell and Chief Menawa with the possible inclusion of the famed William Weatherford (Red Eagle), a half Scottish, half Creek warrior. Jackson was determined to make this campaign the last major one in the area by destroying the Red Stick Creek force at its very stronghold and defended by its best warriors and leaders.

Jackson took off from Fort Strother in mid March with new Tennessee volunteers from the eastern part of that state, the 39th U.S. Infantry, Cherokees and White Stick (pro-US) Creeks. Jackson’s target was to be the stronghold at the horseshoe shaped bend on the Tallapoosa River that the Creeks called Tohopeka. The new forces were important, because Jackson’s previous foray into this wilderness was with Tennnessee volunteers who had many complaints about their pay and enlistment periods. This new force was more motivated and professional. The plan was to form an envelopement and was designed to trap the Red Sticks in the confines of the river bow (see a map of the arrayed forces).

Jackson sent his trusty number two, John Coffee, the White Stick Creeks, some Cherokees and the dragoons to the far side (southern) of the river to feint a river crossing. Jackson took the main force to attack the breastworks head on from the north. Jackson opened up with his limited artillery, but his small guns just bounced shot off the timbered works. However, the sound of the guns excited some of Coffee’s force and they managed to swim the Tallapoosa and steal some canoes. This allowed a landing and cut off the Red Sticks’ main retreat option. Whilst Coffee was harrying the Red Sticks near the river, Jackson ordered a charge on the works. Jackson’s force was then able to use the timber for protection themselves as they fired through the portals from the outside. Finally, a courageous push over the top that included Sam Houston (who was seriously wounded) succeeded in breaching the Creek perimeter with substantial forces. The Red Stick forces fought a determined, but doomed defense inside the stronghold with Jackson even leveling his artillery at point blank range into the huts used as a last stand.

The battle resulted in the largest death toll of Native Americans (557 +) in a single battle throughout all of the Indian wars. Monahell was killed (possibly by Menawa who was fed up with Prophetic devices rather than fighting), Menawa was severely wounded, but escaped and William Weatherford escaped only to walk into Fort Jackson (formerly Fort Toulouse) a few months later to surrender. Weatherford was to play a key role in encouraging many other Red Sticks to give up to the Americans.

Andrew Jackson Horseshoe Bend

Horsehoe Bend is seen as the last of the Creek nation living independently in their ancestral grounds, but this particular Indian War will forever be associated with the War of 1812, because of the winning General. Clearing out the Creeks would allow Jackson to focus on New Orleans nearly a year later with glorious results for Old Hickory.

Image Information: Mcewen, Robert Houston. [Sketch map of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend of Tallapoosa River, 27th March 1814]. 1814. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2012588005/. (Accessed January 14, 2018.)

Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Try this “figure 8” ride starting and ending at Fort Toulouse / Jackson State Historic Site. This takes in the scenic Alabama State Routes 9 and 22 as well as the Horseshoe Bend National Military Park.

French / Indian Force Raid Fort Bull – Oneida Carry 27 March 1756

Photo Credit – By Varing (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Near the beginning of the French and Indian War between Britain and France, the city of Oswego, in present day New York, was considered a strategic location for both the French and the British. The British held the garrison at the beginning of 1756 and were making plans to launch operations from there to disrupt the French re-supply of their inland garrisons of the Ohio Valley. Oswego is where the Oswego River meets Lake Ontario and the British hoped to use it as a jumping off point to attack Fort Niagara, on the present day New York / Ontario border where Lake Ontario meets the Niagara River. Oswego was important, because it could be re-supplied from Albany, New York which was firmly in British control. The route from Albany to Oswego followed the Mohawk River from Albany to near present day Rome, New York, where boats would be unloaded and goods carried overland along the “Oneida Carry” or “The Carrying Place” portage to Wood Creek. Wood Creek, then led into Lake Oneida, then to the Oneida River and finally to Oswego on the Oswego River’s drainage into Lake Ontario. All of this looked good on paper, but the “Oneida Carry” was only protected by two small forts, named Bull (on Wood Creek) and Williams (on the Mohawk). The French decided that to attack Oswego first was too risky, so they decided to cut it off first. French Governour of Canada, Vaudreuil, sent a small force under Lieutenant Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry to capture and destroy both Forts Bull and Williams.

Around 13 March 1756, de Lery took his force of French regulars (troupes de terre from various Regiments), Canadian militia and Indians (Iroquis, Algonquin and Nepissing) from Montreal on a march of privation to the vicinity of Fort Bull on 27 March 1756. The weather had abused them and the forced march deprived them of food for several days at a time. By the time they came to the “Oneida Carry,” they were so ravenous, they did not notice that a member of a sled party that they had raided had escaped to alert Fort Williams. The Indians felt that the group should escape whilst they had the chance, but de Lery was an officer of the continental mode and would have none of it. He had come to disrupt the “Oneida Carry” and that was what he intended to do. Therefore, the Indians focussed on ambushing unsuspecting British on the trail and de Lery took his European force on to Fort Bull.

Fort Bull

At Fort Bull, de Lery found a garrison that had been alerted by a work party who had been ambushed by de Lery’s Indian allies. So, instead of a pushover, de Lery had a fight on his hands. Fort Bull was more of a supply depot than a true baricaded fort, so the French were able to fire sufficently well into the fort that the gates were soon assaulted. Being a gentlemanly European warrior, de Lery asked the British commander for a surrender, but met nothing but another volley of fire. This gave de Lery the mandate he needed to kill all he found inside the fort. Once capitulated, the fort’s soldiers found themselves dying by French bayonettes. The French threw the British weapons in the swamp nearby and put the fort to fire. Fort Williams dispatched a relief column, but they were ambushed by the French allied Indians and turned back. Afterwards, de Lery thought better of attacking Fort Williams as he knew he would not have Indian help and Fort Williams had more men and artillery to fend off his withering force.

At Fort Bull, the French had lost approximately 3 men and the British over 100, but most importantly, the French had conducted a daring winter raid that now denied the British the supply chain they needed to operate willfully on Lake Ontario. Oswego would fall in August 1756, but it was effectively silenced in March 1756.

Ride Recommendation

Try this ride from Rome, New York along the “Oneida Carry,” along Wood Creek, along the north shore of Oneida Lake and on to Oswego on Lake Ontario.

Royalists Win Battle of Roundway Down 13 July 1643

Roundway Down

Roundway Down may have one the most dramatic geographical features of any battleground, bar the cliffs at Pont du Hoc on the Normandy coast. The escarpment that falls away from the back of Roundway Hill is a sheer drop off and was the scene of a desperate retreat in the English Civil War that ended with many cavalrymen and their horses going over the cliff.

After the stalemate at Lansdowne Hill a few days earlier, Waller wanted a decisive engagement with the Royalists that were working the area, so he set siege on Devizes in Wiltshire. Royalist Hopton, who had been injured in an accidental gunpowder explosion after the Lansdown Hill battle, knew he needed help, so he sent Prince Maurice on a end run to Oxford to get more forces to come to his aid. Those forces, under Lord Wilmot and Sir John Byron, approached from Oxford and Waller met them on the sweeping expanse of Roundway Down with a numerically superior force. Waller had what he wanted.

The Bloody Ditch

The battle opened with a cavalry charge by Sir Arthur Haselrige’s cuirassiers or “lobster” cavalry that was beaten back on the Parliamentary right flank after two tries. Haselrige was lucky to have his beating early when several escape routes were still available to him and he took one from the field. The other flank was just as decisively engaged with charges and counter-charges swirling around the flanks of Waller’s lines. Waller’s infantry could only watch as their cavalry flanks were decimated by determined Royalist charges. Finally, to the horror of everyone watching, Parliamentary forces were cornered and fled over the cliff to their deaths in “Bloody Ditch,” the steep escarpment off the back of Roundway Down. Some Royalists were in such hot pursuit that they followed the Roundhead cavalry over. After such a fight, Waller’s infantry was left stunned and almost defenseless to the Royalist cavalry and a large detachment from Devizes that had marched to the sound of the guns, but arrived late.
What had begun as an overwhelmingly favourable position for Waller, ended up with one the most decisive Royalist victories of the war. Roundway Down would affect Waller for years to come and made him overly cautious in future battles, especially those with his old friend, Hopton.

Recommended Ride

Good ride here. Take the A361 Northeast out of Devizes to Beckhampton, where you turn left onto the A4 and go to Calne. Take a left onto the A3102 to Chittoe. Near Chittoe, take a left on the A342 and go to Rowde. Just after Rowde take the lane to Roundway. At Roundway, take the farm lane north to a “Y” and take the left fork. This fork will give away to a very good, solid gravel road where you can view the whole of the battlefield on the down. You can also park up and walk about 500 yards to Oliver’s castle and look over the edge into “Bloody Ditch.” If you have the time, try the A360 from Devizes to Salisbury across the Salisbury Plain (additional 27 miles).

Battle of To-Hoto-Nim-Me / Steptoe Fight 17 May 1858

After being hectored by the fast and loose talking Isaac Stevens, the Washington Territory Governor, into signing a treaty that would see them removed from their ancestral lands to reservations in 1855, the native tribes of present day eastern Washington state became restless with the intruding white settlers and miners. Repeated raids and revenge killings spiraled the area into open confrontation between the U.S. Regular Army of the Northwest and combined tribes of eastern Washington.

Stevens’ disputed 1855 agreements were falling apart as several tribes (a Yakima faction, Coeur d’Alenes, Palouses, Cayuses and Spokanes) raided the eastern end of the territory. From 1855 through 1857 the pace of the unrest grew, until the exasperated Stevens called up volunteers to seek out the Indians that they felt were not complying with the treaty. Stevens had looked to volunteers, because, the military commander of the area, General John E. Wool, had held Stevens’ demands for federal troop intervention in contempt. Eventually, Wool sent a force under Colonel Newman S. Clarke to clear out the area, but very little action was found by Clarke and the area slipped into a relative calm. Wool started making concessions to the treaty in return for continued peace. Stevens was livid, but Wool felt it was better to try to live in peace with the Northwest Indians, rather than rankle them all of the time. Unfortunately, the tribes of eastern Washington began to view the concessions as weakness and the pace of the attacks picked up again, especially against miners digging for gold in the Colville area.

Eventually, Stevens had used his political connections to get Wool re-assigned and Clarke, now a Brigadier General, took over from his boss. Clarke was an old Indian fighter from the Second Seminole Indian War in Florida, but held many of Wool’s sympathies for the Indians and was just as disgusted by the actions of many of the whites. Both officers had either seen or had direct knowledge of the Cherokee’s Trail of Tears and were abhorred by it. However, Clarke was an old Army hand and knew that he would follow Wool out if he didn’t do something to stop the killings around Colville. In May 1858, Clarke sent Major (Brevet Lieutenant Colonel) Edward J. Steptoe, a respected and decorated Mexican War veteran, on an armed reconnaissance of the Colville area to see if there was a way to cool hot-heads on either side. Steptoe headed out of Fort Walla Walla in southeast Washington near the Oregon border on 6 May 1858 with approximately 160 soldiers (1st Dragoons, Companies C, E and H and E Company of the 9th Infantry).

Steptoe took off in early May 1858, but turn back immediately with a wagon train that was just too heavy to maneuver to his animal’s liking. After unloading ammunition (leaving an average of 40 rounds per man), he set off again. After crossing the Snake River at Red Wolf’s crossing, Steptoe had Indian company from thereon. The Allied Indians had already received advance notice of his movements and were waiting. They followed his movement up past what is known as Steptoe Butte today and through the town of Rosalia, Washington.

As Steptoe passed Rosalia going North on 16 May 1858, he was confronted by approximately 1,000 Indians of the combined tribes. Steptoe, realizing he was outnumbered, deciding to parley with them. The talk merely confirmed to Steptoe that the Indians were spoiling for a fight and could take his whole command if he wasn’t careful. The Indians thought Steptoe had come to fight and were unmoved by his explanation that he came to try to settle the Indian / miner disputes in the Colville area. Thinking discretion was the better part of valor, Steptoe decided to withdraw back to the Snake and await re-enforcements who he had requested through a courier, now on his way.

The Battle of To-Hoto-Nim-Me

The night passed with an uneasy truce, but the morning of the 17th found Steptoe on the move and aggressive Indians following and waiting for a moment of weakness. By 8 AM, the soldiers were taking regular assaults from the Indians. They just accepted them at first, but had to start retaliating when the Indians started taking high ground in advance of Steptoe’s column. Eventually, the fire from the soldiers took down several Cour d’Alene chiefs which raised the blood of the Indians, namely Chief Vincent whose Brother-in-law was one of the dead. Vincent had been one of the restraining voices in the Indian camp. With Vincent’s rage ignited, the combined tribes began to attack in earnest. On the Army side, all ideas of a quiet withdrawal were now gone. A series of running skirmishes on the flanks by Company E and C of Dragoons, led by Lieutenants William Gaston and Oliver Hazard Perry Taylor, respectively, were getting increasingly hot. Steptoe sent H Company, led by Lieutenant David McMurtrie Gregg, ahead to secure high ground, but even this was not enough to secure his force. Once the force had consolidated on the Gregg secured hill, Steptoe decided to keep moving to the vicinity of his 15 May camp Southeast of present day Rosalia, near To-Hoto-Nim-Me Creek (now known as Pine Creek). Along the way, Gaston and Taylor went down mortally wounded. The Tribes were calling in re-enforcements as they realized an opportunity to cut off Steptoe’s command.

The Steptoe Fight

Finally, the soldiers reached the hill which today is the Steptoe Battlefield State Park, on the Southeast outskirts of Rosalia. Steptoe set up a perimeter with the howitzers guarding the main approaches. The Indians surrounded the hill and tried attacking from multiple angles, but were beaten back each time. However, the soldier’s ammunition and water was running disastrously low. One example of the fierceness of the fighting on the flanks as the hill was being occupied was Trooper Victor De Moy, a former French Captain, swinging his rifle as a club and firing off all of the rounds of his Colt revolver except one…which he saved for himself. As night closed in, Steptoe gathered his remaining officers and suggested they fight to the bitter end. His lieutenants thought otherwise and convinced Steptoe to evacuate the hill under cover of darkness and make an end run for the Snake River. Burying the dead they could find and the disassembled howitzers, the soldiers left their fires burning, blacked out their gear and horses, tied down jangly items and exfiltrated through a gap in the Indian lines. Rumor has it that the great Yakima chief Kamiakin made it to the site by evening and encouraged a full scale night attack, but was not taken up. Instead, a series of uncoordinated attacks from different angles would harry the soldiers. The first of such was around midnight, but the Coeur d’Alenes who attacked found no soldiers, but most of their gear left behind. The temptation of scavenging the remaining goods overtook reporting the lack of soldiers, so Steptoe got a good head start.

Steptoe’s troops then made an extra-ordinary march of approximately 90 miles to Wolf’s Crossing on the Snake in 24 hours. There they were met by friendly Nez Perce Indians who secured their camp for them as they took well needed sleep. This ended a potentially disastrous engagement for the U.S. regulars, but the sting of having to retreat in the face of Indians was new to the U.S. Army.

Although in military history hindsight, Steptoe’s retreat was one of the most innovative, lucky and resourceful imaginable, his decision to take too little ammunition and his decision to withdrawal in the face of the combined tribes was questioned heavily at the time. The tribes of eastern Washington were resurgent and felt their strength when they fought together and in great numbers. The Army could not allow this “humiliation” to stand and immediately began preparing a column to address the issue. This column, which included future Indian fighting legend Lieutenant George Crook, met the combined tribes on 1 and 5 September 1858 at the battles of Four Lakes and Spokane Plain, respectively, and won decisive victories that ended the problems in the Northwest for the time being.

Ride Recommendation

This is a long ride if you want to follow the Steptoe line of march. (A glitch in Google Maps is causing the route to go through Moscow, Idaho on US-95. The map I designed is correct when I view it, but the insertion code moves the route east. The route should follow Highway 195 through Pullman, Washington. Sorry, but I can’t really complain, Google Maps are pretty good normally) Once in the area, consider the Palouse Scenic Byway for some great scenery. Finally, check out the Rosalia Visitor and Interpretive Center at an old Texaco station for a map of the whole engagement.

At Clarkston, WA, you are near the Nez Perce reservation and it is well worth a stop if you have the time. I’ve spent some time on the Nez Perce Trail.  Of course, this area is also Lewis and Clark country. Further south is the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway which is beautiful. Below is possibly the best picture I’ve ever taken. It is Hells Canyon on the Snake River from the scenic byway.

Hells Canyon on the Snake River on the Idaho / Oregon border

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