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From: H-Net Staff <revh...@mail.h-net.msu.edu>
Date: Sat, Feb 3, 2018 at 8:39 PM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-War]: Booth on Hogeland, 'Autumn of the Black
Snake: The Creation of the U.S. Army and the Invasion that Opened the West'
To: h-rev...@lists.h-net.org

William Hogeland.  Autumn of the Black Snake: The Creation of the
U.S. Army and the Invasion that Opened the West.  New York  Farrar,
Straus &amp; Giroux, 2017.  464 pp.  $28.00 (paper), ISBN

Reviewed by Ryan W. Booth (Washington State University)
Published on H-War (February, 2018)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

The eyes of the nation rested on the fate of the Old Northwest in
1794. Americans obsessively worried about it either falling into
British hands or becoming a permanent homeland for increasingly
hostile Native Americans. The twin goals of opening the West to
American settlement at the expense of indigenous peoples, and the
creation of regular army to protect and expand that enterprise,
coalesced in the 1790s to create the US empire. William Hogeland's
_Autumn of the Black Snake: The Creation of the U.S. Army and the
Invasion that Opened the West_ provides a fresh narrative on this
pivotal period. The author's main thesis is that the creation of a
permanent military force, tested by war with the Miami Confederacy
and their vanquishing of the same, set the United States on the path
of "industrial and imperial power that, with victory in its first
war, the United States did go on to achieve" (p. 375). The Battle of
Fallen Timbers emerged as the moment that turned the US from nascent
weakling republic into a powerful empire intent on western expansion.

Hogeland's work is divided into three parts that follow a cause,
course, and consequences framework. Part 1 explores the various
machinations by British Americans to gain access to the Ohio Country.
The work pays special attention to George Washington and his exploits
both in real estate and with the Virginia militia during the Seven
Years' War. The author also reconstructs the lives of Blue Jacket and
Little Turtle as well as their tribal claims to their homelands. Part
2 focuses on the fledgling US and its various attempts to organize
its settlement claims to the Old Northwest and the people therein. As
the country grappled with its newly won independence, the
consequences of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, and British intransigence
around the Great Lakes, the Americans frequently found themselves
between a rock and a hard place. They lacked the resources, prestige,
and strong military to project power into their newly acquired
territory. The problems were further compounded by botched treaty
negotiations and ruinous military expeditions led by Josiah Harmar
and later by Arthur St. Clair. Part 3 focuses on the efforts of
Anthony Wayne and his newly created and permanent US Army to avenge
St. Clair's defeat and establish American hegemony over the Native
peoples of the Ohio Country. With Wayne's successful battle at Fallen
Timbers, the remaining Indian confederates found no protection from
British forces and their coalition fractured. Thus, the United States
established its dominion over the Old Northwest and ended any serious
threats from Native Americans in the territory.

The book's strengths lie in the author's extensive research on
various figures such as George Washington and Anthony Wayne.
Washington's biography is well-trod territory, but Hogeland holds a
strong line to focus exclusively on his interests in the Northwest
Territories. His Washington appears as a calculating puppet master
intent on western land speculation. Where Washington was calculating,
Wayne appears every bit the rough-and-ready character that he was.
His troubles seem innumerable, from being a lady's man and terrible
planter to his sullen outbursts at perceived slights. This is all the
more remarkable given his "mad" skills of disciplining and training
an army; in this way, Hogeland draws on Alan Gaff's work in _Bayonets
in the Wilderness_ (2004). Other figures leave an impression, but are
even less edifying, such as Henry Knox, who seems only concerned with
lining his pockets at the government's expense. James Wilkinson
emerges as the most perfidious spy in US history, as well as
archenemy of "mad" Anthony.

The other main contribution is to revive the literature on the
conundrum of a standing army in the early republic. Most of the
founders also acknowledged that the militia was wholly inadequate to
the task of providing a consistent and disciplined system of
protection against all foreign and domestic enemies. This debate,
however, is not new and is fully explored in Richard Kohn's
influential work _Eagle and Sword_ (1975). The justifications and
behind-the-scenes political deals made by the Washington
administration were to gain passage of the March 3, 1791, and March
5, 1792, acts that expanded the army into a regular force for the
protection of the frontiers. Therefore, one of the lasting legacies
of Washington's administration was the "formation of a permanent
military establishment" (p. 375).

The book is uneven in the treatment of the various tribes that called
the Northwest Territories home. Although Hogeland uses some
well-known works such as Barbara Alice Mann's _George Washington's
War on Native America_ (2005), he leaves out some classics in the
field such as Richard White's _Middle Ground _(1991). Blue Jacket and
Little Turtle emerge in the text as foils to the drama of western
expansion, but only rarely as real people. Surely they had spouses
and children; what were their names? Who were their relatives before
them that paved the way for their leadership roles within their
respective communities? Another way this neglect shows itself is with
respect to the title of the book, _Autumn of the Black Snake_. "Black
Snake" was a nickname given to Wayne by Indian scouts because of his
apparent ability to never sleep (p. 332). Were there other meanings
behind this name besides this? If one had to venture a guess, the
Native peoples probably chose this moniker carefully and with much
deeper significance. Works such as Sami Lakomäki's _Gathering
Together_ (2014), on the Shawnee from 1600 to 1870, provide an
excellent fusion of both the written and oral traditions of Blue
Jacket's people and could have contributed to a more realistic
depiction of these formidable leaders. Lakomäki further argues that
these were not just confederacies, but indigenous empires on the
make. This matters because it shows indigenous agency and use of
hybrid conceptions of Native and European frameworks to form their
own identity and very nearly vanquish US hopes for western expansion.
Infighting within these indigenous communities in the Ohio River
Valley, due to the influx of dispossessed Indians from the eastern
seaboard who now called the area home, made the area vulnerable to
any designs for a divide-and-conquer strategy.

The other curious aspect of this story is the lack of serious
consideration of the various trappers and British subjects present
around the Great Lakes region. In Hogeland's telling, the region is
devoid of others, except the British and US military forces and some
unbridled American squatters intent on getting rich through
pioneering. In this instance, Patrick Griffith's _American Leviathan_
(2007) could have provided some good information about the various
frontiersmen who called the Old Northwest home. For a nuanced reading
of the economic benefits of the region, William Bergman's _The
American National State and the Early West_ (2012) could have
explained why the British were loath to give up the region, since its
fur extraction economy was so lucrative. Bergman and Griffith's
absence in the bibliography is surprising.

Hogeland's contribution is to make these stories accessible to a
popular audience. All quibbles aside, this book will have great value
for every armchair historian interested in the founding generation
and their attitudes towards the West. Where earlier works such as
Wiley Sword's _President Washington's Indian War_ (1985) presented a
more traditional military history, and Alan Gaff provided a recovery
of Anthony Wayne as a military genius, Hogeland offers another
interpretation: the destiny of the United States was built on the
greed of its founders to secure more land and needed a full-time
military force to protect their claims. In the end, it should provoke
more discussion of the founders' visions for the American West.
Hopefully, this book will spark renewed interest in the Battle of
Fallen Timbers and its far-reaching consequences.

Citation: Ryan W. Booth. Review of Hogeland, William, _Autumn of the
Black Snake: The Creation of the U.S. Army and the Invasion that
Opened the West_. H-War, H-Net Reviews. February, 2018.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=50820

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States


Best regards,

Andrew Stewart
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