Lasting impact of the Sandy Creek Expedition
Every dark cloud has its silver lining, and the failure of the Sandy Creek Expedition to achieve its most visible goal, neutralization of the enemy towns, also had a bright side for the colony. Strong bonds were forged between many Virginia soldiers and Cherokee warriors; bonds that would ensure effective cooperation in several irregular military actions in the ensuing years of the war. The special friendship that forms between self-sacrificing leaders of men in times of desperation formed between Man Killer Ostenaco and the Virginia officers Mjr. Andrew Lewis and Capt. John McNeil.
The bonds between brothers-in-arms strengthened the commitment of certain Cherokee officers (like Man Killer Ostenaco, Yellow Bird, and the Round O Warrior) to recruit warriors (Cherokee, Catawba, and Mohawk) to assist the colonies of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina until the French threat was neutralized. Hundreds of warriors responded to the call to aid their British allies. In the remainder of 1756 and in 1757 they carried on offensive strikes against the French and their allies along Ohio River, even within sight of Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh, PA). Without these raids into enemy-held territory, the colonial war strategy in the southern colonies would have been entirely defensive during this two-year period. In the spring of 1758, approximately 900 Cherokee warriors took the field on behalf of the colonies. They raided as far north as Fort Presque Isle on Lake Erie, capturing enemy officers and their orders.
Cherokees taught the Virginia soldiers the art of the Indian manner of warfare. This was one of the major reasons Col. George Washington so fervently courted Cherokee assistance throughout the war. On the eve of the Sandy Creek Expedition, Col. Washington wrote to Governor Dinwiddie:
“I have given all necessary orders for training the men to a proper use of their Arms, and the method of Ind’n fighting, and hope in a little time to make them expert.”
The American Indian method of war shared a few similarities with the irregular style of fighting used by British troops against Scottish Highlanders, but it was vastly different from the regular British tactics used by General Edward Braddock at his unexpected defeat in 1755 near Fort Duquesne.
Col. Washington, Mjr. Lewis, and Gov. Dinwiddie recognized the potentially high effectiveness of the American native style of war against the enemy who also was adept at this style. Virginia soldiers like Colby Chew, Thomas Bullitt, and John Draper (the brother of Mary Ingles) began their special training with the Cherokees on the Sandy Creek Expedition. Both Chew and Bullitt continued to serve with Cherokee war parties through the Forbes Campaign in 1758. Johnny Draper served honorably as a scout in Lewis’ army during Dunmore’s War 18 years later. Mjr. Lewis melded regular European war tactics with Indian tactics to serve well at the Battle of Point Pleasant during Dunmore’s War and at several junctures during the War of Revolution.
One other important beneficial outcome of the Sandy Creek Expedition is often overlooked today—the significant role the campaign played in providing engineering training to the Virginia officers and common soldiers who cleared a road down Sandy Creek for the pack train to follow. Andrew Lewis became such an expert in road construction in wild lands that he and his axemen were called upon by Col. Washington in 1757 to build numerous forts and roads between the forts in Virginia’s back settlements. Lewis and his men were also significant contributors to the construction of Forbes’ Road in 1758. General John Forbes’ army marched along that road to the recently abandoned Fort Duquesne in November of 1758. The British occupation of Fort Duquesne ended the French threat in the southern theatre of the war. This significant British victory had its roots in the Cherokee-British military alliance that started with the Sandy Creek Expedition in 1756. As you return home from the tour, ponder the hardships suffered by the men, both Virginian and Cherokee, as they protected Great Britain’s toehold in the Trans-Allegheny region.
Their efforts eventually bore the desired fruit. After all, French is not the primary language of the region today.
Capt. William Preston recorded: