BATTLE OF FALLEN TIMBERS CONFIRMS AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE-PART III

Continued from Part II

While Congress heard this testimony, Washington focused on the future regarding both the Army, relations with the Indians and foreign policy.  Rebuilding the shattered army became his first priority, for without an army the nation remained defenseless.  He sought, and Congress approved, a doubling of active duty strength, now set at 5,000.  It initially contained five infantry regiments, one battalion of light dragoons (cavalry), one battalion of artillery and such medical and other forces as needed.  Congress established through the Militia Act of 1792 federal authority over the organization and training of the state militias.  It seems that throughout our nation’s history only military disasters force our leaders into providing adequate military forces.

First Washington must select a commander, a man capable of restoring confidence in the demoralized soldiers and recruiting new soldiers.  He must further select a man capable of enforcing discipline and training standards on both officers and men, regulars and militia.  This commander must further understand the complications of the Quartermaster Department and the logistical problems of frontier campaigns.

Washington looked at a list of sixteen generals from the American Revolution and consulted his Cabinet on the selection.  Of the sixteen only three emerged as not too old, too ill of health or some other disqualification.  His selection must also possess substantial military fame for passing the approval of Congress and stimulating recruitment.  As a last choice, former Major General Anthony Wayne of Pennsylvania, became Washington’s new commander.

Wayne won the nickname of “Mad Anthony” for his exploits during the Revolution where he earned the reputation as an aggressive leader.  He began his military career as the colonel of the Fourth Pennsylvania Battalion on January 3, 1776.  Wayne took his command as reinforcement for the failing Canadian invasion where he proved his competence as a leader.  In February, 1777 he received a promotion as brigadier general and served under Washington in some of the most famous battles of the war.  At Valley Forge he earned a reputation at looking after the health of his troops and providing for their needs.  He finished the war in the South under Major General Nathaniel Greene, including war against the British-allied Creek Indians.

Like so many famous generals, Wayne failed at much of his endeavors in civilian life, including a brief political career.  His “fondness for the ladies” caused an estrangement from his wife and children, leaving him a lonely man.  In truth, he needed the Army as much as it needed him and he eagerly accepted a commission as major general.  He accepted with certain conditions, that he receive orders only from the President and Secretary of War.  No congressional interference, no instructions from governors and no civilian delegations for undermining his authority.

Wayne soon found that he possessed no army except for the survivors of St. Clair’s debacle at faraway Fort Washington.  Although Congress authorized four brigadier generals only three from a long list accepted:  Wilkinson, on the frontier; Rufus Putnam of Massachusetts and Thomas Posey of Virginia.  The situation grew worse when filling the ranks of subordinate officers because so many died under St. Clair.  Further complications arose as these officers bickered over seniority, resigned over “insults” and even fought duels.

Recruiting from the mostly “civilized” East, the tales of Indian atrocities discouraged many from leaving their comfortable lifestyles.  Nevertheless, officers spread out across the country offering a bounty of eight dollars for a three-year enlistment.  These officers mostly recruited from their home states, where they enjoyed some reputation among the residents.  Most companies unofficially became named after the commander and the state, instead of military designations.  Despite the best efforts, many of these recruits came from the “lowest levels of society,” including criminals.

As these officers struggled at filling the ranks, Wayne remained in Philadelphia for preparing for his campaign.  He gathered intelligence from surviving officers of St. Clair’s campaign and anyone else familiar with the frontier.  Wayne further conducted extensive preparations regarding his quartermaster needs, appointing a competent former Continental Army officer, Colonel James O’Hara, as quartermaster general.

Wayne initially established his headquarters at newly constructed Fort Fayette, near Pittsburgh, finding only one company present for duty.  From this poor beginning, troops gradually filtered in and Wayne began the arduous task of organizing and training his force.  Once again, arms and equipment proved of poor quality, mostly leftovers from the Revolution.  The uniforms and other clothing of the soldiers proved such poor quality that most civilians felt sorry for them.

The “dens of iniquity” of Pittsburgh proved a “training distraction” and a source of the Army’s many disciplinary problems.  In November, 1792 Wayne moved his growing army down the Ohio River about twenty-five miles near the old Shawnee village of Logstown.  Named Legionville after his army, now called “The Legion of the United States,” the soldiers first constructed winter quarters.  Then Wayne focused on disciplining and training his force under a strenuous program that transformed it into a professional force.  A man ahead of his time, Wayne developed some of the first “combined arms training” of the Army.  He maneuvered all the elements, infantry, cavalry and artillery in joint maneuvers, including “mock battles” with blank cartridges.

Wayne further increased the marksmanship training of his men, including competition between the musket-armed infantry and the riflemen.  He tried “modifying” the old French Charleville muskets and increasing their rate of fire, unfortunately the War Department disapproved.  Then as now, bureaucratic “red tape” often hinders the commanders in the field.

The enforced standards of discipline and training did not create affection between the commander and his soldiers.  Punishments fluctuated between execution, flogging and dishonorable discharge through as little as a verbal reprimand and public humiliation.  Officers and men often called him “Old Tony,” “Old Horse” and “Mars” behind his back.  Even worse, his second-in-command conspired against him and sowed dissension among the officers.

Wilkinson, far removed from the watchful eye of Wayne, wanted the supreme command for himself.  Exercising an autonomous command at Fort Washington, Wilkinson, disregarded orders, communicated directly with Knox and criticized Wayne when possible.  Because of Wilkinson’s efforts, the officers of the Legion formed into two hostile camps: those who supported Wayne and those for Wilkinson.  Furthermore, by this time Wilkinson secretly served as an agent for Spain, receiving thousands of dollars in payment.

Wayne did not waste time while he awaited the arrival of more troops and provisions, he developed an ambitious plan.  The US might lack an army, however it possessed a vast network of spies in both British and Spanish territory.  Based on intelligence received, Wayne firmly believed that the US must eventually fight both England and Spain.  At the time England proved the most significant threat, particularly for Wayne’s home state of Pennsylvania.  He initially planned a two-pronged attack, not only against the Miami Confederacy, but forcing England’s hand regarding the illegally held American forts.

Wayne planned on leading the first wing, moving north from Legionville toward Presque Isle on Lake Erie, where the British held Fort Erie.  This force operating on Lake Erie threatened not only the British forts, but also the arms and supplies for the Indians.  Ascending the Maumee River, Wayne’s force threatened the hostile Indian villages from the rear, forcing them into dividing their forces.

Washington overruled this route for several reasons, and detailed them for Wayne in a long letter.  If Wayne advanced, it threatened the neutrality of the Iroquois League, which might attack the Legion.  Furthermore, the British possessed more naval vessels on Lake Erie than the entire US Navy.  While the British may withdraw from Fort Erie without a fight, they might also reinforce from the other forts.  The US still remained unprepared for another war with England, particularly if provoked by an American advance.

Wayne must rely on the plan for his proposed second wing, moving up the same road as St. Clair.  Originally planned as under the command of Wilkinson, this plan called for an attack on Kekionga. He further planned on threatening Detroit, the main source of arms and provisions for the Indians.

History records the results of Wayne’s expedition; however an interesting “what if” scenario surfaces regarding the success of the original plan.  Biographer and descendant of General Posey, John T. Posey, calls Wayne the “Patton of his day.”  History records the many problems encountered by General George S. Patton that proved beyond his control.  Of importance for this discussion, the supply problems that slowed Patton’s advance across Europe in 1944.  Wayne’s quartermaster department already strained under the requirements before the Legion advanced into the field.  Supplying two forces on the frontier might prove beyond the capabilities of the War Department, and hinder both operations.

Then we must address the leadership skills of the duplicitous Wilkinson, already on the Spanish payroll.  In fairness, he achieved a good combat record during the Revolution, despite his dabbling in intrigue.  Wilkinson did lead a small, though successful, raid deep into enemy territory, enhancing his reputation in Kentucky.  He further performed a great service in holding together the remnants of St. Clair’s army.  However, he performed these tasks for his personal aggrandizement, and he disliked serving as a subordinate.  Did he possess the qualities for leading an expedition of this size and focusing on victory without considering his personal interests?

While the Americans rebuilt their army the Indians missed their best opportunity for turning back the tide of settlement.  Following Little Turtle’s victory a council of several tribes broke up without making any decision regarding future operations.  The same bad weather that hampered St. Clair’s advance also hampered the fall harvest for most of the tribes.  Furthermore, they suffered from the destruction of homes and crops by the two Kentucky militia expeditions.

The Miami abandoned their villages and moved around the various British trading posts, making them more dependent.  Tribes from the upper Great Lakes region returned home for the winter and promised further aid in the spring.  The Wabash and Illinois tribes signed peace treaties with the Americans, taking most of their warriors out of the fight.  Of further importance, the still-powerful Iroquois remained neutral, with some supporting the Americans, jealous of the Miami power.

Likewise England and Spain squandered their best opportunity for seizing the pieces of America they desired.  Delayed communication with their capitals in Europe prevented any decisive action, particularly regarding overt military action.  Spain, in particular, possessed too few troops for invading American territory without significant support from American traitors.  Until orders arrived from Europe, officials of both countries in America continued arming and inciting the Indians.

Both nations still focused their priorities on the closer problems with conditions in France, which resulted in war in 1793.  In a true lesson of Realpolitik, England and Spain, enemies since the days of the Spanish Armada, became allies.  This quelled some of the previous intrigue from British agents promising support for westerners if they attacked New Orleans.  These agents now focused on stirring up the Indians against the western settlements, and the threat of Wayne’s force.

For its part Spain felt relieved at the removal of the British threat on Louisiana.  With Wayne’s Legion concentrated against the Miami Confederacy, they saw an opportunity for enforcing their claims on American territory.  Fortunately for us, the authority from Madrid came too late and with too few reinforcements, given the needs of concentrating on France.  They strengthened their hold on their posts near modern Vicksburg, Mississippi and Demopolis, Alabama and negotiated new treaties with their Indian allies.  Spanish troops also established a small post near modern Memphis, Tennessee in mid-1794.  From here they tried wooing the Chickasaw from the Americans, and did cause a split in the tribe.

Unfortunately the European conflict affected the US when Edmond Charles Genet arrived in April, 1793 as the French ambassador.  Arriving in Charleston, South Carolina “Citizen” Genet began licensing American privateers for raiding British ships.  He further authorized funding for two American expeditions into Spanish territory, little known in history today.

Revolutionary War hero, George Rogers Clark, organized one of these expeditions from his home near Louisville, Kentucky.  He boasted of fielding 5,000 men for his “Expeditionary Legion of Mississippi,” although no one saw near that number.  However, few doubted the charisma of Clark if he called for volunteers for capturing New Orleans. Even lesser known, another Revolutionary War veteran, Elijah Clarke (no relation), organized a small force in Georgia for seizing Florida.

As Genet journeyed toward Philadelphia most Americans greeted him as a hero, holding banquets in his honor.  Pro-French “democratic societies” organized in most American cities, including Lexington, Kentucky in support of “French ideals.”  Other pro-British Americans regarded him with contempt and the partisan divide among Americans caused several riots.  Washington demanded that France recall him for breaching the stated American neutrality and a change in France’s government negated his authority.

Washington correctly decided that America’s political, economic and military weaknesses must confront only one problem at a time.  Besides, the US lacked a navy for defending its home waters against the superior British Royal Navy.  Most of America’s seaports also lacked harbor fortifications for defending against a seaborne invasion.

While the Genet Affair dominated the East, Wayne moved his Legion from Legionville and joined Wilkinson’s contingent.  With campsites in short supply, Wayne selected the best available site and called it “Hobson’s Choice.”  Here his men constructed their camp and continued training for combat while he awaited the arrival of adequate supplies.  He also awaited orders from Knox for beginning the campaign, since Washington sent a peace commission among the Miami.

The Legion’s quartermaster department earned their money as Wayne proved a demanding taskmaster.  He sent his agents throughout Kentucky for obtaining supplies, particularly rations and packhorses, from local sources.  O’Hara spent much of his time traveling between Fort Washington and Fort Fayette, an almost 500 mile one-way trip by boat.  A detachment widened the road previously cut by St. Clair for transporting supplies.  Wayne further stockpiled these supplies in the advanced forts before moving his main army against the Indians.

Something deeply disturbed Wayne while he accomplished his preparations; the fear his men held of the Indians.  Despite the harsh discipline and the tough standards of training in most skirmishes the soldiers ran from the fight.  Most of these skirmishes occurred when small detachments guarded supply convoys and fell into ambush.  Granted the veterans of Indian warfare told tales of the brutality of this fighting, particularly the survivors of St. Clair’s disaster.  Wayne must find some way of breaking this fear his men felt of the Indians if he hoped for a victory.

These Indians assembled during the spring of 1793, anticipating an advance by Wayne when he appeared at Fort Washington.  They arrived from all over the “Old Northwest,” including the upper reaches of the Great Lakes.  As they wrought havoc on frontier settlements and the advanced military posts, they encountered problems.  This massive influx of “visitors” required food, shelter and other provisions beyond the capabilities of the Miami “hosts.”

Raiding the American supply convoys did not adequately meet their needs, and soon diminished the amount of food available among the Miami villages.  It further taxed the British Indian Department which must now supply these needs from faraway Quebec.  Many “visitors” grew discouraged and departed early, without damaging Wayne’s supply system as significantly as possible.  Wayne continued stockpiling his supplies as he continued waiting on word of the “peace commissions.”

The aforementioned peace commissions departed Philadelphia in June, 1792, with little chance of success.  Knowing only victory against the Americans, most of the Indians saw no reason for peace, particularly given British support.  Colonel John Hardin and Major Alexander Trueman departed Fort Washington and headed north toward the Miami villages. At first they found friendship from a group of Indians, who offered themselves as guides.  These Indians later murdered the two commissioners as they slept and robbed them.

One commission did yield success, the previously mentioned treaty with the Wabash tribes conducted at Vincennes.  Led by General Putnam this commission found a significant chance of success through the interpreter William Wells; the adopted son of Little Turtle.  Captured by the Miami at age thirteen, he lived among them for nine years, sometimes described as “more Indian than the Indians.”  He fought with the Miami in both the Harmar and St. Clair expeditions, serving with distinction in the latter.  By chance he arrived at Vincennes in June, 1792 as an interpreter for several Wea chiefs at the peace conference.  Here Wells met his white brother, and he subsequently visited his white family in Kentucky.  He soon found himself earning a significant living acting as an interpreter and Indian expert for the US government.  When Wayne arrived at Fort Washington he commissioned Wells a captain in command of a company of scouts.

While Wayne awaited orders for beginning the campaign he used Wells for gathering intelligence on the Miami.  Wells selected for his company men like himself, those captured by the Indians and who lived with them.  These scouts proved invaluable when the Legion advanced into the wilderness, and into the unknown.

A third peace commission, wisely using the protection of the British, survived their adventure, but achieved no success.  They communicated their failure by sending Washington a message from the protection of British occupied Fort Erie, Pennsylvania.  Wayne received permission for beginning his campaign on September 11, 1793, too late in the season for an offensive.  However, he moved his force as far forward as possible, reaching the most advanced post, Fort Jefferson, on October 13th.  Constructed during St. Clair’s campaign, Fort Jefferson sat about sixty-five miles north of Fort Washington.

During this march the Indians scouted Wayne’s column looking for an opportunity of attacking him.  However, Wayne kept out significant security detachments for preventing ambush and always fortified his overnight bivouacs.  Alan D. Gaff in his book, Bayonets in the Wilderness, describes Wayne’s fortifications as modifications of Julius Caesar’s field camp, called castra aestiva. Wayne, an avid student of military science since his youth, undoubtedly knew of the Roman camps.  A quadrangle-shaped structure made of wood with bastions on each corner for artillery, constructing it required about one hour.  The Indians subsequently gave Wayne the name “Blacksnake” believing he certainly possessed the cunning of a snake.

Wayne advanced the Legion six more miles and then constructed Fort Greenville (modern Greenville, Ohio) for winter quarters.  Behind him his supply line proved tenuous at best, with Indians raiding his supply convoys.  As winter weather approached he found his contractors incapable of providing the promised amount of rations.  Wayne berated them for this situation and kept sending them back for finding the rations.

Significantly, recruiting efforts did not achieve the 5,000 men authorized and desertions reduced this number even more.  Besides, Wayne must provide garrisons for a series of small posts from Vincennes, Indiana through Fort Franklin (modern Franklin), Pennsylvania.  With the Spanish incursion into Tennessee and the continuing threat of Clark, he must establish a post at Fort Massac.  Situated near modern Metropolis, Illinois it hopefully defused this problem, although it strained Wayne’s resources.  He further detached about 250 men for duty in Georgia for deterring Spain, the Creek Indians and the Clarke expedition.  Furthermore, in those days more soldiers suffered from disease and sickness than battle wounds, which significantly reduced Wayne’s numbers.  With all the detachments and other exemptions from duty, Wayne made winter camp with about 3,000 regulars.

Wayne already received permission from Knox for mobilizing Kentucky militia; however he hesitated at calling them.  Past experience showed them unreliable, undisciplined and performed their best at consuming military supplies.  Militia officers proved reluctant at serving under regular officers of equal rank, despite the more experience of the regulars.  Regular officers refused any subordination under militia officers, regarding any state-appointed commissions as inferior against US Army commissions.

Unfortunately Wayne realized in the summer, before his Legion marched, that he must call for the militia.  Many of Wayne’s veterans, those who survived St. Clair’s campaign and who received the best training, anticipated the end of their enlistments the next year.  Despite promises from Knox, Wayne did not expect any more recruits before he launched his campaign.

Fortunately Wayne possessed an old comrade in the Kentucky militia, newly promoted Major General Charles Scott.  Scott achieved fame among Kentuckians for his previously mentioned successful raid on the Wabash Indians.  Originally from Virginia his military career began during the French and Indian War, although too young for service.  During the Revolution he raised a company of Continentals, achieving the rank of colonel in 1776 and brigadier general the next year.  Furthermore he and Wayne served together during the Revolution and developed that bond of brotherhood experienced among wartime comrades.

Scott left Virginia for Kentucky after the war and settled on his veteran’s grant in Woodford County.  He lost two sons fighting Indians and vowed vengeance for their death “in any way that presented itself.”  When Wayne called for the Kentucky militia Scott eagerly joined his old comrade and began raising volunteers.  Acting on Scott’s advice, Wayne accepted all of Scott’s volunteers in the federal service, under US Army standards of discipline.

Although a popular figure, Scott found that his fellow Kentuckians did not share his enthusiasm for an Indian campaign.  Most of them remembered the failed campaigns of Harmar and St. Clair, especially the casualties of St. Clair’s defeat.  No state suffered more from Indian raids than Kentucky and most men felt a stronger need for defending their families.  Therefore, when Wayne issued the orders beginning the campaign, the number of Kentuckians fell short.

With Kentucky volunteers dribbling in, Wayne left Scott orders for joining him with those assembled by October 1st.  However, reports that he received on the march forced a change of orders, delaying the rendezvous until October 15th.  Even this order stated that Scott leave behind at Fort Washington “enough officers to muster and bring forward these militia levies.”  The main body of Kentuckians, 1,000 strong, did not reach Wayne until October 24th, too late for an active campaign.

While the troops constructed Fort Greenville, many of Wayne’s officers chafed for action, both regular and militia.  Wayne authorized a raid of a combined force of regulars and militia of fewer than 150 men against the main Indian camp.  Called Grand Glaize this large camp sat near modern Defiance, Ohio where the Auglaize River joins the Maumee River.  Major William McMahon commanded this small force as it advanced undetected toward the Indians.  Scouts found several trails leading toward the camp, indicating a far superior force of Indians.  Wisely, McMahon aborted his mission, returned without suffering a casualty and provided some valuable intelligence.

The Kentucky governor, Isaac Shelby, sent Wayne a letter suggesting that he use the mounted Kentuckians on a “desultory raid against the Indians.”  Wayne called a “council of war” of his senior officers, all of whom called this raid “too hazardous.”  With colder weather the health of both men and animals grew worse, lessening the odds of success.  The Kentuckians launched an insignificant raid, which accomplished little, except further harm the health of men and mounts.  Thus ended the campaign of 1793, with the Legion camped for the winter deep in enemy country.

On November 9th, Scott took his men home until the following spring for easing Wayne’s supply problems.  The Legion’s dragoons also wintered in Kentucky for the same reason, and for acquiring fresh horses.  At Fort Greenville Wayne berated his quartermaster department for not providing the rations and supplies that his command desperately needed.

Unfortunately Wayne suffered from more problems than supplies; idle soldiers often create disciplinary problems.  The Wayne-Wilkinson rift in the officer corps widened creating dissensions, courts-martial and resignations.  Other officers requested furloughs and transfers for personal reasons, creating more vacancies in the Legion’s leadership.  General Putnam resigned after the successful Wabash treaty in 1792 for reasons of ill health.  In February, 1794 General Posey resigned, citing family reasons, leaving the Legion with only one brigadier general, Wilkinson.

Other officers “leaked” information by sending newspapers anonymous letters criticizing both Wayne and the Legion.  Unfortunately, then as now, “journalists” did little for verifying this information and many of these letters proved false and misleading.  Wayne made an enemy of Cincinnati’s first newspaper, the Centinel of the North-Western Territory, which eagerly published negative reports of him.  Fortunately for Wayne officers that sided with him published rebuttals and the desperate situation made his replacement unlikely.

With so much dissension among the officers, the enlisted men followed their example, although they lacked the ingenuity.  Even in the dead of winter men deserted, with many of those successfully eluding pursuit dying of exposure.  A ten-dollar bounty offered civilians for the capture of deserters, dead or alive, did prove somewhat of deterrence.  Courts-martial increased, as did the punishments meted out, requiring substantial time of the officers involved.

One accomplishment during the winter, Wayne’s troops occupied the St. Clair battlefield on Christmas Eve of 1793.  Under the command of Major Henry Burbeck, the Legion’s artillery commander, about 300 troops marched north and built Fort Recovery.  Establishing adequate security measures, Burbeck organized the troops for constructing the fort.  A quadrangle-shaped fort, it possessed four blockhouses, each of them twenty feet square, one on each corner.  Their size allowed for the firing of howitzers from embrasures on three sides and rifle ports for enfilading fire.  Once they completed the blockhouses the troops connected them with a palisade of upright timber.

Burbeck detailed several men for the grisly task of properly burying the skeletons of those killed during the battle.  The soldiers also recovered hundreds of muskets left on the field by the Indians, most of them beyond service.  These men also searched for the eight artillery pieces abandoned by St. Clair, hidden by the Indians.  Captain Wells provided intelligence regarding the hiding places and found most of them, placing them inside the fort.

Continue to Part IV

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One thought on “BATTLE OF FALLEN TIMBERS CONFIRMS AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE-PART III

  1. Pingback: BATTLE OF FALLEN TIMBERS CONFIRMS AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE-PART IV « Frontier Battles

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