War of 1812: The Gantlet — run for your life!Written by Frank Kuron | | email@example.com
Have you ever been to an authentic Polish wedding? If so, you probably partook in a festive dance called the Grand March.
Couples snake across the dance floor in a long line to the beat of Notre Dame’s fight song. When the weaving stops, the pairs form parallel columns, and the last couple in line has to pass under the arch of all the upraised arms ahead of them. Naughty twosomes randomly drop their locked limbs and ensnare the runners, knowing that the only escape is a kiss for the trapper of the opposite sex. Although the scent of dozens of exposed, polka-infused shoulder hollows could be considered torturous, it simply doesn’t compare with what history records to have transpired when a person ran between two rows of people in the past.
When you hear the term “running the gantlet,” do you first think of the Native American accounts of its use? It seems embedded in our culture that this torture was something the Indians designed and used on captives. However, the truth is that this practice goes back to antiquity.
The earliest stories of its purpose come from ancient Rome. Marcus Crassus was one who decimated —meaning he put to death one tenth of his legion for the cowardice shown during the gladiator wars against the renowned Spartacus. Units of ten men would cast lots and the loser was forced to run between two rows of the remaining nine, who beat him with clubs until he died.
Since that time, running the gantlet has been adopted as punishment in versions either gentler or nastier by Germany, Russia, Sweden and numerous other countries. Some cultures used it as a light deterrent where the captive or criminal was absolved of wrongdoing after surviving a moderate whipping.
The British employed the gantlet run as corporal punishment in their military during the American Revolution and in their Royal Navy through the War of 1812.
Typically, an officer would lead, pace and point a sword at the accused as he made his way between the attacking columns. Another officer followed behind, similarly deterring an escape. Rawhides, tree limbs or ropes were used to whip the victim as he passed. Sometimes the ropes were unraveled into their nine main strands, and knotted several times at the ends, becoming the painful cat-o’-nine-tails whip.
Though impossible to prove, it would seem that the Native Americans may have learned this form of persecution from the Europeans they encountered, and used it in with various degrees of violence through the War of 1812. Such famous captives as Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton were subjected to it and survived during the late 1700s. But one of the most famous incidents of its use by Indians was in the ruins of Fort Miamis, in Maumee, during a siege of Fort Meigs in 1813.
Here, several hundred U.S. troops were taken prisoner by the British and Indians. British General Henry Proctor turned a blind eye to the Indians’ torture of these prisoners, which included the running of a 60-foot-long gantlet lined by warriors armed with clubs, tomahawks, scalping knives and guns.
U.S. General Leslie Combs was one of the runners: “In doing this I was not touched, although the man ahead of me was shot down and fell across my way. I leapt over his body and went through double-quick. I was near Tecumseh when he made his speech … whereby hundreds of prisoners were saved — of whom I was one.”
Tecumseh arrived with the gantlet already in progress, and proved his character by halting the action with a ferocious rebuke of his men and Proctor.
Frank McQueary of Toledo is mighty grateful for Tecumseh’s integrity and timely arrival that day, as otherwise he wouldn’t have been born to tout the greatest adventure of his great-great-grandfather, John McQueary, who was one of those prisoners spared from running that deadly course.
Let’s hope that running the gantlet will never again mean running for your life, but only be a metaphor for getting through a series of difficulties, or the opportunity to snatch a kiss at your friend’s wedding.
Frank Kuron is author of the War of 1812 book, “Thus Fell Tecumseh.” Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bugle Call: Upcoming events
OVisit Fort Meigs on July 4 when War of 1812 soldiers and civilians will re-create the July 4 of 1813 through cannon firings, demonstrations and hands-on activities for children. At 2 p.m. an 18-gun National Salute accompanied by toasts and fife and drum music will take place. Throughout the weekend, a War of 1812 living history encampment, weapons demonstrations and more will occur.
Visit: www.fortmeigs.org or call (419) 874-4121 for complete details about all upcoming events.