A Brief History About Early American War

We began studying history with the French and the Indians in the new world. The reason we chose to start with the French and the Indians is because I am a victim of Jan’s interest. We live in the middle of the old French and Indian fur trade area and we are surrounded by French and Indian place names.

The movie The Last of the Mohicans and Black Robe got me interested with the French and the Indian war. What I liked the most were the kinds of weapons that they used. When the French came from Europe they brought smoothbore muzzleloaders, iron tomahawks, iron knives, and swords. Smoothbore muzzleloaders were the most common guns of those times because you could shoot them like a shotgun or you could shoot a large lead caliber ball. People also liked smoothbore muzzleloaders because they were the only gun you could put pellets and a lead ball and shoot a moose or a duck without carrying two guns.

Every gun needs a firing mechanism and that’s the lock. The earliest lock invented was the match lock and was the first type brought to the new world in the 1600s. There was a wick attached to the hammer and then when the soldier was ready to shoot, he’d take his flint and steel, light the wick, aim the gun, and pull the trigger which released the hammer. The wick that was attached on the hammer would ignite the priming powder in the priming pan. The explosion would go through a small hole, set off the gunpowder in the back of the barrel, and explode. The pressure would push the projectile out of the barrel.

After Match lock came flint lock which was used on the smoothbore during the French and Indian War. This time a flint would hit a steel causing the same thing to happen as with a match lock. In 1816 the percussion cap was invented but was not issued to the American troops until 1841. A small powder filled cap fits onto a nipple, the hammer hit the cap and ignites the powder in the back of the gun. After caps came breech loading guns. Instead of loading guns from their muzzle, you would load them from the other end, the breech. One way or another the breech opened, you shoved a cartridge in the breech, closed it and fired, the beginning of a modern gun.

Rifles were invented in Europe in the 1500s. The frontiers men began using them in mid 1700s.     In 1849 Claude Etienne Minié invented a cone shaped expanding lead projectile called a Minié ball or “a bullet” that was shot from a rifle. An expanding lead bullet meant that when it hit a person’s leg or arm it would mushroom and cause serious injury. If the wound was too severe the doctor would cut and saw off arms and legs while the person was screaming. At Mississinewa I got to see some of the actual tools they used. Sometimes, like during the Civil War, there were piles of limbs as tall as buildings. War is a gruesome thing.

A rifle is a gun barrel that has very small grooves that are cut into the barrel in a spiral pattern, which greatly increased the projectiles range. When the projectile was shot, the grooves spun it making it shoot faster and farther up to 900 yards and then adding a rear site to the barrel gave the gun great accuracy. When I was at the Kalamazoo gun show, I had the opportunity to try a rifling machine. We were really putting the grooves in a real gun barrel. It could take up to 12 hours to cut the grooves in one barrel. This illustration shows how it works. 


Even though the rifles were invented in the 1500s the American military did not commonly use them until the 1850s. In the 1850s the military modified the muskets by adding shallow grooves so they could shoot minié bullets.

The French and Indian war began in 1754 and ended in 1760, but the treaty was not singed until 1763. The war was about resources. The English lived between the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, and the French lived in the middle of what is now the US and Canada. The French had the upper hand because they were friends with the Indians, had adopted the Indian way of fighting, and adapted to the wilderness, but at the time of the French and Indian war, the population of the French people in Canada was 75,000 and the population for the English in the colonies was 1,500,000. The English government sent large armies while the French sent smaller armies. The French were more interested in the Caribbean and therefore did not send over as many troops to North America. The Indians were experts in guerilla warfare and when the French came they learned this quickly. This was something new to the Europeans. Guerilla warfare is like modern Special Forces. By the end of the war, the American colonists had also had adopted Guerilla warfare which later helped them win the American Revolution. In 1763 the English had won the war which gave them New France. But the Indians kept fighting all the way through the American Revolution and to the war of 1812.

One of the causes of the American Revolution was that in the treaty that ended the French and Indian war the British agreed that the American colonists could not cross the Appalachian Mountains which as time went on antagonized the American Colonists who then did not obey the treaty and this in turn is what caused the Indian wars. Meanwhile, in the colonies, things were stirring up. The British were increasing the colonists’ taxes and made it the law that only the British could manufacture and sell resources.  The colonists were not allowed to manufacture their own stuff and sell it to local people which made it really hard for people and families to survive. Eventually, there were riots in the streets and people were protesting and this is what caused the Boston tea party. Sam Adams and some other people boarded a British merchant ship loaded with tea. They took all the tea and dumped it into the Boston Harbor. This antagonized the British, and they wanted to kill all the protesters. In 1775 the war began and then in 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed. It was full on war. There were many battles and many deaths on both sides and in 1783 the colonists defeated the British. Then the colonists made the Constitution, made a government, and elected Gorge Washington the 1st president of the United States of America.

However, 30 years later, we were again at war with Britain. It became known as the war of 1812 (1812 – 1814). But my focus was the Indian side of the war, but specifically, Tecumseh. He was a Shawnee, and his dream was to unify all the Indians, join the British, and fight against the Americans to drive them away from Indian territory. Some of the Indians joined, but sadly most of them did not. The British made him a Brigadier General which is one of the highest generals there is, and he did not have to go through all the ranks. But unifying all the Indians was not his Idea, it was his younger brothers, also known as the Prophet. He was a spiritual man, but wasn’t a public guy, and was shy at speaking at a large crowd. But Tecumseh however, had a loud voice, and was a very good speaker. The battle of Mississinewa was one of the battles he fought in. He won the battle without help from the British, but did not win the war. Tecumseh was finally killed at the battle of the Thames in Ontario.

Rochelle taught me a little poem that her dad learned when he was in school in the early 1930s about the Civil war:

1861 the Civil war begun
1862 they wore the gray and blue
1863 they set the Negroes free
1864 they called for thousands more
1865 went home to see their wives

There are many reasons the Civil war started, but the two reasons I thought were the main ones were Abolishing slavery and the issue of tariffs. When Abraham Lincoln was elected to the presidency, the South started seceding from the Union. Abraham Lincoln wanted everybody to be united and this is another reason why the war started. The Confederacy elected Jefferson Davis as their president. The North had many high generals but towards the end of the war Ulysses S Grant became their main general. For the south, Robert E Lee was their main general. Overall, he was the best general of the war. During the war, the North was known as the Union because they wanted the states to remain united and the South was known as the Confederate states of America or the rebel states. The North wore blue and the south wore gray uniforms, but the uniforms were not standard, meaning they were not all the same. There were many famous Civil war battles but the main ones were Bull Run, Shiloh, and Gettysburg. After the battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln gave his famous speech, the Gettysburg Address. Throughout the war, the Black solders wanted to fight with the North but the North was not so receptive at first. But eventually the Black soldiers were able to prove themselves. Then sometime later Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation which then freed the slaves. Finally, after 5 years of bloody war, Lee surrendered to the North at the Appomattox Court House in April 1865. Later in April 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at a Theater while watching a play. It took a really long time to recover after the Civil war. In fact, we are still facing problems from the Civil War.

By Tenzin Hurtado