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Autumn of the Black Snake

George Washington, Mad Anthony Wayne, and the Invasion That Opened the West

William Hogeland

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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ISBN10: 0374537844
ISBN13: 9780374537845

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464 Pages



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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.


Praise for Autumn of the Black Snake

"Hogeland’s book is a finely researched entry about a war about which few Americans are aware—the war to eradicate the Native Americans from what was then considered the American West . . . Filled with information about little-known Americans, this tome is clearly written with graceful prose . . . A masterful historical exploration of an astonishing time in American history, this is a must read for those interested in colonial times and westward expansion."—Historical Novel Society

"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 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 . . . This book will have great value for every armchair historian interested in the founding generation and their attitudes towards the West . . . 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."—Ryan W. Booth, H-War

"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

"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

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt



On a November morning in 1791, nearly thirty years after the French Crown abandoned its American empire, a man named Richard Butler sat against a mattress propped against the base of...