Knife sharp wind, a goodbye kiss from Canada, caught the sails of the creaking ship as it shoved off the dock, Detroit disappearing from sight. Mercifully, with winter’s breath rattling the russet leaves, the sweat and stench of the crew was tempered, somewhat lessening the nausea on board. Fear flickered on faces however, as their charge, a man seemingly infallible on the battlefield, grew weaker by the day.
Prayers were said and the men worked constantly to ensure a safe arrival. When they docked on Nov. 19 at the port of Presque Island Pennsylvania, the relief was palpable. The crew gingerly unloaded the man who, in his prime commanded his militia with calculated methods and an unshakable air of control. Now, he was frail, racked with pain, face white as his laundered but wrinkled shirt. Shuffling in the direction of an army blockhouse, where the promise of medical attention lay, the men had no idea the course history would take or the macabre way in which their general would be remembered.
Their dynamic and dramatic leader, Anthony Wayne, was born in the wilds of Pennsylvania on New Year’s Day, 1745. The son of an Irish immigrant, he was a curious and quick learner, having matriculated at the College of Pennsylvania but never earning a degree. Instead, he learned the trade of surveying and at age 21 he married Mary Penrose. To their union, two children were born; Margretta in 1770 and Isaac two years later.
Displaying the stereotypical Protestant work ethic, the devoted patriot organized a military unit at the dawn of the Revolutionary War and was made colonel of the 4th Pennsylvania in 1776. From there he had some successes as a commander of rear guard action, but suffered a sneak attack by General Charles “No Flint” Grey in the Battle of Paoli.
A turning point in his career occurred on July 16, 1779 at the Battle of Stony Point. Under the ink black sky of night, he orchestrated an attack on the Redcoats using only bayonets. In the span of a half-hour, ninety-four Loyalists lost their lives and four hundred seventy two were captured. The Patriots suffered fifteen casualties along with eighty-three wounded. Wayne counted himself among this number, as he was nearly scalped by a musket ball.
As a result, he was awarded a medal from the Continental Congress and his nickname, “Mad”, for his seemingly reactive and fool-hearty maneuver.
In fact, he was a diligent tactician who researched military history and planned the attack thoroughly.
He was, however, one for creative venues of expression which ranged from his choice of expletives to his sharp, clean, and stylish uniforms. A true Capricorn, he was bossy, demanding, and doled out sympathy sparingly. He twice pardoned mutinous soldiers but later had four of the leaders executed.
Promoted to Major General by the end of the war, he became a U.S. Representative and also served in the legislature before being called back to service by President Washington in 1792. He commanded the Legion of the United States and fought against the Native Americans who resided in present day Ohio in an effort to claim more land.
Years of travel, battle, and encounters with less than healthy foods finally caught up to him and in 1796 he was living with severe gout while stationed in Detroit. He then decided to return to Pennsylvania.
He and his crew arrived in Presque Isle (Erie) on November 19 and he immediately sought treatment from Dr. Russell Bissell.
Despite the physician’s best efforts, General Wayne died a mere three weeks before his 53rd birthday. Prior to his demise he had requested to be buried at the foot of the flagstaff and donned in his uniform.
And there he lay, in peace. A very undramatic ending for the “Mad” general.
His daughter decided that she wanted her father nearer to the family and requested that her brother make the arduous, three hundred mile journey to claim their father’s body. Isaac traveled in a small “sulky” carriage, with only enough room for the driver, believing this to be big enough to transport his father’s bones.
Upon arrival, General Wayne was disinterred and much to he surprise of everyone he was found nearly completely intact despite the lack of embalming. This posed an issue for Isaac.
As the men stood about, scratching their heads, the attending physician, Dr. Wallace shared his idea. Whether he received consent from Isaac has been lost to history, but what he did rings loud and clear. He dismembered Anthony’s body, the boiled the skin from the bones. He then gave the bones to Isaac and re-buried the flesh, boiling water, and instruments used in the ghoulish procedure. Isaac then returned to Radnor Township and buried his father’s bones, with honors, on October 24, 1809.
And there’s the dramatic finish to the man who’s legacy after death would certainly qualify as “mad.”
“Issue the orders, Sir, and I will storm Hell”. -General Anthony Wayne