In 1809, a bizarre burial for a 'mad' general


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As American colonists battled for independence, Gen. "Mad" Anthony Wayne captured a British fort in New York at midnight, earning a reputation as a brilliant strategist in the chaos of battle.

George Washington rode on horseback to congratulate him in person. Soldiers who noticed his reckless bravery gave him his nickname.

Later, the fiery leader trained a fearsome army outside of Pittsburgh in 1792, conquered the Indians and negotiated a treaty with them so the Northwest Territory could be settled.

And 200 years ago, in events being marked today, the daring soldier became the subject of one of Western Pennsylvania's grisliest tales.

After he died at age 51 from an attack of gout, his body rested for 12 years in an oak coffin at Presque Isle, a peninsula off Lake Erie. In 1809, his only son, Isaac, journeyed 900 miles round-trip from Eastern Pennsylvania to Western Pennsylvania to return his father's remains to the family plot in Wayne, Chester County, at Old St. David's, an Episcopal church immortalized in a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Instead of poetry, a series of horrific events unfolded. Unable to face the exhumation, Isaac Wayne rested at a hotel while his famous father was dug up. The general's friend, Dr. J.C. Wallace, was amazed to find the general well preserved.

Embalming was not possible so Wallace dissected the body and boiled the flesh from the bones in an iron kettle.

With his father's skeleton, Isaac Wayne returned to Eastern Pennsylvania. Later, statues would be raised to the general at Valley Forge and in Fort Wayne, Ind., one of many towns that bear his name.

But "Mad" Anthony Wayne, who distinguished himself in the American War for Independence and at the decisive Battle of Fallen Timbers, may be the only general buried in two places. His flesh remained in Western Pennsylvania while his bones were interred in his native Chester County soil, not far from his family's ancestral home, a Georgian mansion called Waynesborough.

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the burial of Wayne's remains near his family members. At noon, an honor guard of about 20 men, including Western Pennsylvania re-enactors, will carry a casket across the property of Old St. David's and stop at the churchyard gate.

"The real bones are not involved," said Bennett Hill, a retired history teacher who lives in Tredyffrin Township. "This is a commemoration. The casket will be received by the rector of the parish with appropriate prayers from the 1789 Book of Common Prayer."

Then, the honor guard will process to an obelisk that honors Wayne and conclude the ceremony with a musket salute.

Mr. Hill's research led him to a letter written by Isaac Wayne that shows he returned home on Oct. 23 and buried his father's remains the next day. While Wayne grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania, Beaver County re-enactor Patrick Riley, who lives in South Heights, believes people have forgotten his impact on Pittsburgh.

"He liked it here. In 1792, his headquarters were here for almost seven months," said Mr. Riley, adding that Wayne built Fort Lafayette on what is now Ninth Street in Downtown Pittsburgh and trained his army in Legionville, an abandoned field in Beaver County. That field, said Mr. Riley, who has an archaeology degree from the University of Pittsburgh, contains the graves of at least 13 soldiers.

"The people who came as part of Wayne's encampment here in Pittsburgh and Legionville stayed behind to settle Pittsburgh," Mr. Riley said, adding that Wayne's army attracted blacksmiths, tinsmiths, saddlers, farriers, carpenters and boat builders.

After the American Revolution, the nation lacked a standing army, said historian Thomas Fleming. The British refused to leave forts they controlled on the frontier and continued to arm the Indians.

So, Washington summoned Wayne and asked him if he would train an army made up of four sub-legions, consisting of 1,280 men each. With careful planning, Wayne triumphed where his predecessors, Josiah Harmar and Arthur St. Clair, had failed.

"After he got the army organized and disciplined, he sent half of the army into the woods, told them to paint their faces and take off their clothes. He sent the rest of the men to attack them," Mr. Fleming added.

That type of training exercise helped the soldiers to survive.

"They didn't lose their heads when they heard guns go off in their faces" later in real battles, Mr. Fleming said, adding, "The Marine Corps is using these training techniques today."

While some may have forgotten his deeds, Wayne's name lives on in a pale ale brewed in Erie, various schools, numerous towns in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan and a minor league basketball team in Fort Wayne, Ind., called the "Mad Ants."


Marylynne Pitz can be reached at mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648. First Published October 24, 2009 4:00 AM


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