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The forgotten story of how the U.S. Army was created to fight a crucial Indian war
When the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the newly independent United States savored its victory and hoped for a great future. And yet the republic soon found itself losing an escalating military conflict on its borderlands. In 1791, years of skirmishes, raids, and quagmire climaxed in the grisly defeat of American militiamen by a brilliantly organized confederation of Shawnee, Miami, and Delaware Indians. With nearly one thousand U.S. casualties, this was the worst defeat the nation would ever suffer at native hands. Americans were shocked, perhaps none more so than their commander in chief, George Washington, who saw in the debacle an urgent lesson: the United States needed an army.
Autumn of the Black Snake tells the overlooked story of how Washington achieved his aim. In evocative and absorbing prose, William Hogeland conjures up the woodland battles and the hardball politics that formed the Legion of the United States, our first true standing army. His memorable portraits of leaders on both sides—from the daring war chiefs Blue Jacket and Little Turtle to the doomed commander Richard Butler and a steely, even ruthless Washington—drive a tale of horrific violence, brilliant strategizing, stupendous blunders, and valorous deeds. This sweeping account, at once exciting and dark, builds to a crescendo as Washington and Alexander Hamilton, at enormous risk, outmaneuver Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and other skeptics of standing armies—and Washington appoints the seemingly disreputable Anthony Wayne, known as Mad Anthony, to lead the legion. Wayne marches into the forests of the Old Northwest, where the very Indians he is charged with defeating will bestow on him, with grudging admiration, a new name: the Black Snake.
Autumn of the Black Snake is a dramatic work of military and political history, told in a colorful, sometimes startling blow-by-blow narrative. It is also an original interpretation of how greed, honor, political beliefs, and vivid personalities converged on the killing fields of the Ohio valley, where the United States Army would win its first victory, and in so doing destroy the coalition of Indians who came closer than any, before or since, to halting the nation’s westward expansion.
Finalist for the 2017 Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award
"Hogeland breathes new life into a transformative conflict unknown to most modern Americans but decisive in shaping the future trajectory of the United States . . . He paints vivid portraits of leaders such as Blue Jacket (Shawnee) and Little Turtle (Miami), who were among the most formidable indigenous adversaries that U.S. forces ever faced . . . [and] convincingly argues the significance of Washington's decisions during this episode . . . Indeed, Mr. Hogeland's work invites reflection on why some of the most important (and darker) legacies of Washington's presidency—establishing federal supremacy over the west and its native inhabitants in a war of unbridled conquest—have also been the most readily forgotten." —David Preston, The Wall Street Journal
"In elegant, authoritative prose packed with lively characters and hard-won detail, Hogeland tells the strangely unknown story of the conquest of the American Midwest . . . Autumn of the Black Snake is a narrative history, often a gripping and even thrilling one . . . His finest and most disturbing book to date." —Richard Kreitner, The Nation
"Autumn of the Black Snake is a thorough, informative and entertaining read . . . yet it is also a devastatingly accurate mirror into our own political souls . . . Hogeland deserves all the plaudits he can get for writing such an insightful book about the present by diving so deep into America's past . . . The best popular histories are the ones that take obscure subjects and make them not only compelling, but vitally relevant, for lay readers." —Matthew Rozsa, Salon.com
"Compelling . . . Hogeland rescues some colorful key players from obscurity and restores them to the main narrative of the early American republic." —Amy H. Sturgis, Reason
"[Autumn of the Black Snake is] narrative-driven; carefully constructed for maximum tension and dramatic payoff . . . [Hogeland] has situated himself as one of the foremost critics, outside academia, of the Founders Chic that—in the wake of Hamilton—remains a remarkably dominant paradigm . . . He also makes a sustained effort to include Native American perspectives . . . [and] grapples with the possibilities and limitations of Native strategy—which is crucial to challenging assumptions about the inevitability of white conquest . . ." —Tom Cutterham, The Junto
"Hogeland does a fine job of bringing this untold tale of the U.S. Army’s birth to life . . . It’s an intriguing saga of double-dealing, limited diplomacy, and strong personalities on all sides . . . Hogeland’s writing shines . . . For any reader interested in early American political or military history, Autumn of the Black Snake would be a good addition to their bookshelves." —James A. Percoco, Washington Independent Review of Books
"Hogeland grippingly relates the battles over the Ohio Valley between the fledgling U.S. and a coalition of the Shawnee, Miami, and Delaware nations . . . Well-known Revolutionary characters (Washington and Hamilton, for instance) fill Hogeland's pages; so too do colorful, little-known, and impressively skilled British military figures and Native Americans . . . Stuffed with detail, Hogeland's solid and distinctive book fills a significant gap in the narrative history of the United States." —Publishers Weekly
"Tightly focused . . . Hogeland vividly delineates these seminal personalities, such as the first commander of Washington's Western army, 'Mad Anthony' Wayne; the Indian leaders Blue Jacket and Little Turtle as well as the half-white Indian ally, Alexander McKee . . . An enlightening history of American westward expansion." —Kirkus Reviews
"[Hogeland] spreads a rich tale of land hunger, self-dealing, betrayal, and change as Colonizers steadily migrated west, pushing Native tribes out of their traditional hunting and agricultural demesnes. Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian philosophies clashed while an unending stream of settlers trekked west. Detailed and . . . comprehensive." —Edwin Burgess, Library Journal
"Hogeland relates . . . [this story] with eloquence and insight into the motives and actions of each side. This is a scrupulously balanced account of a formative period in westward expansion." —Jay Freeman, Booklist
"[Hogeland's] story bristles with larger-than-life characters." —Edward Morris, BookPage
"Like all great nonfiction, Autumn of the Black Snake takes the familiar and turns it upside down and inside out. With clear, muscular prose, William Hogeland sets the record straight on badly neglected early American history. He knows his stuff, and his point of view is fresh and sure-footed. My notion of the republic's narrative has been forever altered." —Eric Bogosian, actor, Pulitzer Prize–nominated playwright, and author of Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot That Avenged the Armenian Genocide
"William Hogeland is one of the best historians of early America. His books are pulsating and thought-provoking, and in Autumn of the Black Snake he marshals his skills to recount a sweeping story of frontier turbulence. Relating this saga would have been sufficient for some historians, but Hogeland goes further and lays bare President Washington's hidden motives. This is history at its best. The gripping account Hogeland provides is must-reading." —John Ferling, author of Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War That Won It and Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation
"Autumn of the Black Snake is an elegantly written and scrupulously balanced account of what is sometimes called President George Washington's Indian war, enhanced with a nuanced and intriguing recounting of the often dirty politics behind the formation of the United States Army. I highly recommend this important
—and thoroughly enjoyable—book on these overlooked but crucial episodes." —Peter Cozzens, author of The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West
"Some wars America remembers, some wars we work to forget. William Hogeland gives a dramatic telling of the war that we have never really talked about, despite being the war that made us the global military power weare today. It's a harrowing story, brilliantly told, and a radical relook at the ragged collective of colonies who fought for their own liberty and then, once getting it, set out on the warpath, an empire bent on taking its neighbors' liberty away." —Robert Sullivan, author of My American Revolution: A Modern Expedition Through History's Forgotten Battlegrounds and Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants
"In this page-turner, the bigger-than-life characters of Little Turtle, George Washington, Blue Jacket, and Mad Anthony Wayne clash over the future of the continent at a time when any of them might have prevailed. A rich and important book." —Kathleen DuVal, author of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution
"William Hogeland's rare talent is turning books into conversation, and bloodless, impenetrable histories into compelling and strange narratives. Icons become flawed people who did all sorts of things for contradictory reasons. The author is a skeptic, political analyst, and truth teller. Which is all fine, but not nearly as important as being a brilliant and amusing storyteller." —Paul Chaat Smith, author of Everything You Know About Indians Is Wrong
"If you think Custer's Last Stand was the biggest defeat inflicted on an American army by Native American forces, you should read William Hogeland's Autumn of the Black Snake. This book describes one of America's least-known but most important conflicts: the so-called Northwest Indian War. Hogeland shows how the annihilation of a large American force by a confederation of tribes caused the stoic George Washington to cry out in rage and led to the formation of the Legion of the United States which became the foundation of the American Army. He argues that this struggle is an ominous prequel to Imperial America, as greed, nationalism, and ambition swirl through a cast of amazing characters. In Autumn of the Black Snake, Hogeland once again manages to write rigorous, original history in wonderfully colloquial prose." —John Dolan, aka Gary Brecher, The War Nerd