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September 25 1812: Use of Huzzas to Fight "Indians"


On September 25, 1812, Colonel Willett writes to Major General Rensselaer to offer some advice on how to fight "Indians" with  the use of  "huzzas." Colonel Willet explains how a "vigilant and smart officer" can defeat them: 
He is with rapidity to place himself conspicuously in front; off with his hat, wave it around his head, and order his men to rush among the Indians with loud and repeated huzzas. The Indians, who have no compactness to oppose to such force, and losing the noise of their yells, by the superior noise of the huzzas, are sure to set running; when, by having some good marksmen, you may hit some of them; But tho' I never found it difficult to drive them, I could not kill many; for it is not often that a fair shot can be had at them.
Colonel Willett's letter is reproduced below.


Col. Marinus Willet to Maj. Gen. Van Rensselaer. 
New York, 25th Sept., 1812. 

Dear Sir- I should before this have offered my services to you, had I not been apprehensive that the infirmities of age, which cause me to fear I might be burdensome, prevented me; but tho' I cannot enjoy that satisfaction, I trust you will not be displeased with my addressing you with a few observations on the subject of Indian warfare. In the summer of the year 1763, soon after the disbanding of the army, General Washington visited the frontiers of our State: on this occasion I accompanied him; and as we were traveling along the Mohawk River, the devastations that had taken place there introduced the subject of Indian Warfare. I signified to the General my disapproval of the Virginia mode of fighting Indians by the men taking to trees, and fighting the Indians in their own way, which would continue for a number of hours, with no great advantage on either side. It was remarked that the Indians, who were generally furious in their onset, depended much on the noise of their Yells to strike a terror which not unfrequent, had the intended effect and caused their enemy to run, when they usually made great havock. In their mode of fighting they extend their line to great lengths, and endeavour to surround their foes: the noise, which by this means appears from different quarters, generally occasions surprise, and sometimes terror; either of which is easily prevented: a vigilant and smart officer can effect it in an instant. He is with rapidity to place himself conspicuously in front; off with his hat, wave it around his head, and order his men to rush among the Indians with loud and repeated huzzas. The Indians, who have no compactness to oppose to such force, and losing the noise of their yells, by the superior noise of the huzzas, are sure to set running; when, by having some good marksmen, you may hit some of them; But tho' I never found it difficult to drive them, I could not kill many; for it is not often that a fair shot can be had at them. They will, however, after, having been driven from one position, generally, take another; and tho' they may not pursue the same course they did in their first onset, by commencing a fresh fire at considerable distance, they will be constantly taking off men, unless the same mode of driving them is pursued.

I have been fighting Indians when they were vastly superior to me in numbers; and have been obliged to pursue this mode of driving them from one position to another for four or five miles. I always found them dexterous in taking positions, but experienced little difficulty in driving them. The officer who commands the troops engaged with Indians, must be smart, active and brave; and it is proper always to have covering parties, under the direction of a steady, firm man: but the officer who leads the troops to attack ought to possess a great deal of fire; every thing depends on his activity, vigilance and courage. There is nothing can discover greater weakness, or folly than to run from Indians: it is almost certain death : but to face, and run in upon them is the sure means of beating and overcoming them : for, tho' they have agility and dexterity, they are by no means equal in strength to our soldiers. But it is not, my dear Sir, in fighting Indians, only, that I have experienced the advantage of a bold charge upon the enemy. I have tried it, several times with British troops, as well as with Indians; and it uniformly succeeded. Soldiers must be taught to look their enemies in the face, they should be brought into action as often as possible. Soldiers must be taught to fight, a few good officers can do a great deal, the road to danger is the road to honor for a soldier. It is important that such ideas as these be instilled into young officers, as well as the necessity of their being reconciled to fatigue, and deprivations.

That you may go on, in a course of glory to yourself, and advantage to your country is the ardent wish of 

Dear Sir, Your very obedient Servant.
M. Willett, Lt. Col.

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