The Decisive Battles of the Frontier

My apologies for the long break between posts. The last post discussed a good series from the History Channel in its early days before it sold out to ratings. The series Frontier: Legends of the Old Northwest examined the lives of four individuals important to the history of the Old Northwest. The History Channel produced another series a couple of years later that dealt with important battles on the frontier. Frontier: The Decisive Battles of the Old Northwest presents the story of four major battles/wars that shaped the early history of the United States well into the 19th century. Both series are well worth watching for history buffs and teachers for classroom use, as they present history well and captivate the viewer.

The first battle discussed in the series is the Battle of King’s Mountain in 1780 in South Carolina. The episode discusses the background history of the American Revolution, especially the Southern Theater, as well as the important figures involved. The episode discusses the Scotch-Irish frontier dwellers that comprised the Patriot force involved. In addition, the British commander of the Loyalist militia opposing the Americans, Patrick Ferguson, was chronicled. The show treated Ferguson well, noting his genius in military matters. Ferguson commanded units of British riflemen, designed rifles, and was described as one of the best marksmen in the British army. The show notes how Ferguson at one time had George Washington in his sight and could have easily killed him, but did not (one could dream up an incredible counter-factual history from that incident). The episode describes the brutality of the battle, as each side fought bitterly for the mountain, including the death of Ferguson. King’s Mountain is a classic example of the sheer brutality of frontier warfare, especially when adding the clannish feuds of the frontier in the mix.

The second episode deals with one of the most important battles of the Old Northwest for the young United States. The Battle of Fallen Timbers was a decisive victory for the American army in the wake of stinging defeats earlier at the hands of the Miami Indian confederacy. The episode notes the background leading up to the battle, discussing the defeats of Josiah Harmar and Arthur St. Clair in 1790 and 1791. St. Clair’s Defeat is the battle that led to Fallen Timbers. On November 4, 1791, Arthur St. Clair’s force of militia and regular US troops were ambushed by the Indian force. The militia broke and ran, leaving the regular troops to hold out for several hours before being overrun and forced to retreat. The battle was a stinging defeat for the nation, as over 800 Americans were killed, which included over 600 soldiers and 200 camp followers (the wives and children of soldiers, as well as prostitutes). The United States army suffered heavily, loosing one-quarter of its standing strength, with the casualty rate amongst the soldiers involved being over 97 percent.

The episode discusses the story of William Wells, a white man who was captured by the Miami from his Kentucky home when he was twelve years old. The Miami chief Little Turtle adopted the boy as his son, and Wells married Little Turtle’s daughter. Wells fought with his adopted father at St. Clair’s Defeat, but would serve the American army after realizing that he could have killed his own kin in the battle. He rejoined his white family and offered his services to the new American commander tasked with avenging the American defeat and rebuilding the army, “Mad” Anthony Wayne.

Wayne reorganized the army, which he named “The Legion of the United States” and instilled strict discipline as he prepared his men for battle. Wayne used Wells as a scout, given Wells knowledge of the Indians. The Battle of Fallen Timbers began in August 1794 when Wayne attacked the Indian forces after waiting for a couple of days (the video noted that the Indians did not eat prior to the battle and Wayne was allowing them to starve) and caught them in a weakened state from lack of food. The Indians soon realized that they were facing a much stronger enemy and fled to a nearby British fort, only t find the gate locked, as the British did not want to involve themselves directly. The battle resulted in the United States gaining much of present-day Ohio via the Treaty of Greenville of 1795. In addition, it solidified American control of the Old Northwest given that the British had occupied forts in the area in violation of the Treaty of Paris.

The third episode discusses the major American victory in the last battle of the War of 1812, which occurred after the peace treaty was signed. The Battle of New Orleans pitted the rag-tag American force, comprising regular troops, militia, pirates, and others under Gen. Andrew Jackson against the British army (most fresh from victories against Napoleon in Continental Europe) under Gen. Edward Pakenham. The episode, like all the others, unpacks the background history of Jackson and the war, including Jackson’s campaigns against southern Indians. It also discusses the diverse makeup of his army.

The episode examines the battle very well, noting surprise attacks by the Americans against the British. It then chronicles the main battle, describing the defensive fortifications erected by the Americans, as well as the valiant assault by the British against the entrenched Americans. The episode notes the staggering losses suffered by the British, including the loss of many officers, Gen. Pakenham among them. The episode notes how the battle secured the American position in terms of the peace treaty, and propelled Jackson to national prominence, with the culmination of his election to the presidency.

The final episode examines the last major conflict between Americans and Indians in the Old Northwest, the Black Hawk War in 1832 in Illinois and Michigan Territory. The war erupted when Black Hawk violated treaties and remained in the village of Saukenuk in 1830 and 1831 following hunting. In April 1832, his band crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois, which led the governor to claim that Black Hawk was invading his state. Illinois militia soon pursued Black Hawk, but were ambushed and fled in the Battle of Stillman’s Run. Even though only a few militia were killed, exaggerated claims of thousands of warriors sweeping across northern Illinois rallied whites to fight against Black Hawk. One of those who joined the fight was Abraham Lincoln. The episode notes the destruction of Black Hawk’s band at the Battle of Bad Axe, in which most of his band was trapped on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River and killed or captured most of those trapped. Black Hawk and some of his remaining followers surrendered soon after the battle and were sent on a tour of the country. The episode mentions how the war influenced many figures eventually significant to later history, including Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Zachary Taylor, and Winfield Scott.

Overall, this series is as good as the first Frontier series and covers important battles that are significant to the history of the early American frontier. It discusses the battles, places them in historical context, and presents the backgrounds of the events and principle  characters involved. It is a great resource for history teachers for use in the classroom and is worth checking out.

TV Documentary on the Legends of the Frontier

I must state that I believe that The History Channel has declined in quality over the years. When it started, the programming was of a higher quality. Then, the channel began to over emphasize the World War II period (not that this time is not important), specifically Nazi Germany, which earned it the nickname “The Hitler Channel”. Now, the programming has gone off the deep end, with shows like Monster Quest and The Universe, which is more in the realm of The Discovery Channel. It has led me to question, whether a new channel dedicated to history is needed to bring quality programming on history back. With that said, I would like write a bit about a great miniseries that was on The History Channel a few years ago and deals with the subject area of this site and is quite good. The show is known as Frontier: Legends of the Old Northwest and it is one of two series, with the other series, Frontier: The Decisive Battles dealing with four important battles in the Old Northwest.

Frontier: Legends of the Old Northwest focuses on four key figures of the history of the old Northwest. The first episode focuses on Robert Rogers and his rangers that battled the French and their Indian allies for the British during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). The episode discusses Rogers’ early life, his service in the British army when he formed the rangers, and his later life. One of the pivotal events discussed in this episode is the attack on the Abenaki village at St. Francis in Canada in October of 1759, in which Rogers destroyed the village, killed many of the village inhabitants (accounts vary as to how many), and then trekking through the Vermont wilderness for days, struggling for food and survival. The episode provides a great amount of information about Rogers, his rangers, and links them to today’s ranger forces. This subject is a great start for this series.

The second episode deals with one of the pivotal events in the intervening years between the close of the French and Indian War and the start of the American Revolution, Pontiac’s Rebellion. Like the episode dealing with Rogers’ Rangers, Pontiac’s Rebellion examines the life of Pontiac, the Ottawa chief and his rebellion against the British in the Old Northwest in 1763. The rebellion began at Detroit and then spread to many other outposts in Michigan, and eventually to much of the old Northwest. The episode chronicles Pontiac’s life as well, including his death at the hands of fellow Indians.

The third episode chronicles the life and events surrounding one of the most important people in the old Northwest, at least from the American standpoint, George Rogers Clark. The episode, titled The Long Knives, examines the men behind Clark’s epic foray into the Illinois Country during the American Revolution. The episode discusses the training of Clark’s men in Kentucky and his easy captures of Kaskaskia and Cahokia in Illinois, as well as his initial capture of Vincennes, Indiana. The show chronicles Clark’s British opponent Lt. Gov. Henry Hamilton, known as the Hairbuyer, for his trade in American scalps, very well. Clark leaves only a small force at Vincennes, which allows Hamilton to retake the town and its fort, named Fort Sackville. Clark then leads an epic expedition across the cold winter prairie of southern Illinois, which includes several days of marching through chest-deep, frigid waters and huddling on mounds of mud, as the Wabash River was swollen and little dry land existed. Clark and his men, exhausted to the point of collapse, then lay siege to the fort and force its surrender. Clark’s expedition paves the way for securing the old Northwest for the Americans.

The final episode of the series deals with the life of Tecumseh and his efforts at a pan-Indian confederacy to drive out the American settlers in the early 1800s. Included in this episode is Tecumseh’s early life, including his fighting during St. Clair’s defeat and the Battle of Fallen Timbers, his brother, later known as “the Prophet”, fight against the whites, including the Battle of Tippecanoe with William Henry Harrison, service and death with the British in the War of 1812. The episode provides great insight into his service in the War of 1812 with the British army and death at the Battle of the Thames in 1813.

Overall, all four episodes in this series are worth watching, as they focus on important people in frontier America and the events surrounding them. Though the programming on The History Channel has declined some over the years, Frontier: Legends of the Old Northwest is one program that illustrates how historical programming on frontier America should be done.

Review of The First Way of War by John Grenier

I wrote the following review for On Point: The Journal of Army History and it will appear in an upcoming issue.

The First Way of War: American War Making on the Frontier, 1607-1814. By John Grenier. Cambridge University Press, 2005. i-xiv, 232 Pp. Figures. Maps. Index. ISBN 0-521-84566-1. $30.00

Through gripping accounts taken from primary sources to maps of the regions in question, Air Force officer and Air Force Academy history Professor John Grenier argues and illustrates how America developed its unique military heritage and style of war making based upon irregular warfare. Specifically, Grenier examines the killing of non-combatants and destruction of crops and homes during the wars in the colonies as well as the American Revolution, the Indian wars of the early republic, and the War of 1812.

In his introduction, Grenier discusses the history and historiography of military and specifically American military history, including the development of America’’s unique way of making war. He lists off several historians and works from the past that discuss this topic, which provide the reader with a good background on the subject presented in this work.

Grenier presents the history of American rangers through much of the work and he keeps the story in chronological order beginning with the wars in the colonies from 1607-1689, which occurred between colonists and Indian tribes. He brings to light how ranger companies were generational with sons often leading units that their fathers once led. He then moves into the wars on the continent between France and England in the eighteenth century as well as the lesser-known wars, noting the role that rangers and the tactics they used played in the conflicts in the mid-eighteenth century prior to the French and Indian War (1754-1763).

Grenier then breaks the flow of the work with a chapter dealing with the history of petite guerre in Europe. This story is important for understanding this work, but would better serve the work if it was the first chapter as in the current placement as the third chapter, it breaks the flow in a way that hurts the story that the author is presenting. This is not to say that the chapter does not belong as it does, but rather that it belongs in a different place within the larger work.

Grenier then examines America’’s way of war making in the French and Indian War. He notes that Britain realizes the need for American rangers, especially after Braddock’’s defeat, but that they are slow to realize this. Shortly after Braddock’’s defeat, various units of American rangers are formed in response, including one unit formed by Robert Rogers (the famous Roger’’s Rangers). He also notes how the British after initially relying on the rangers attempt to replace them, but fail. Finally, he concludes the chapter by examining how the British adapt the American way of war.

Grenier also examines the Revolutionary War period, primarily focusing on the war on the frontier, which includes stories about George Rogers Clark as well as the Northeast frontier. Grenier then examines the 1790s, which present great defeats and triumphs on the frontier from St. Clair’’s defeat to the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The story then carries into the early 1800s, focusing on events like the Indian war in the Northwest against Tecumseh and the Creek War to the south, finally ending in 1815.

Overall, Grenier’’s scholarship is quite good with many primary sources drawn together for this work, including the papers of Sir William Johnson, as well as many government documents. He also provides a good selection of maps and illustrations to aid the reader in understanding. His style is formal, but not beyond the general reading audience, which gives it a wider audience as both historians and general readers can understand the book. Though he is an Air Force officer, Grenier proves that he knows the subject well. His work adds greatly to the scholarship of both American history and US Army history. Both historians interested in the topic and general audiences will benefit from reading The First Way of War.

Thoughts on the PBS Documentary “The War That Made America”

My apologies for not keeping up with this site, but I hope to keep up with it, as I am reviewing a book dealing with the period, and I hope to get other writers involved.

I have been meaning to write something about the documentary “The War That Made America” for some time now. As one who enjoys good television programming on the subject of early American history, I not only own this show, but both “Frontier” series put out by the History Channel (back when it was good), as well as the A&E documentary “The American Revolution”, which is a classic (reviews on these will appear some day).

That said, I would like to highlight some of the good parts, as well as some of the bad with this program. The documentary is narrated very well by Graham Green, an Oneida actor who had ancestors that fought in the conflict. The documentary is packed with information and good living history excerpts. It examines the war from all sides and discusses many of the important figures and events of the war, though sometimes with only a mention. In addition to good narration and balance, the research is quite solid. Finally, the acting for the living history is good and certainly not as annoying as recent documentaries on The History Channel.

There are a couple of problems that I do have with this program. While the acting is quite good, the way it is presented is somewhat awkward. This is because in many of the scenes the main character in question (Washington, the Marquis de Montcalm, etc.) pulls a stunt out of Saved by the Bell, in which the scene seems to freeze with the actor portraying the character in question talking to the audience. While the tactic is interesting and makes the attempt to have a historical figure communicate with the audience, I believe that a traditional scene, similar to a movie would be more appropriate. This is only a small problem that does not negatively affect the value of this program much.

The other, more serious, problem is the portrayal of George Washington. The program portrays Washington as a brash and blundering young man. While this may be somewhat true based upon the events involving him and the ignition of the war, it must be noted that if he were so brash and blundering, how could he have secured a position as a major in the Virginia militia? Yes, his family was well off, but Washington did possess valuable experience.

In addition to the portrayal of Washington, another problem is the overt amount of attention paid to him by the program. While I certainly revere Washington and admire him, I also know that he was a minor player in the grand scheme of the war in America. More attention could have been paid to other aspects of the conflict, like the siege of Louisbourg.

Overall, while there are minor problems, I find this program to be very good and a useful tool for educators wishing to find a good program to show classes dealing with this period. I applaud PBS (which is a rarity given my views on their politics) on this fine program and encourage everyone to consider watching it.

St. Clair’s Defeat vs. the Battle of Fallen Timbers: Defeat and the Lessons Learned and Applied in the Old Northwest Indian War, 1791-1795

This paper was originally written for one of my history classes and I hope you enjoy the topic. Author’s update: After consideration, I have chosen to remove the citations from this paper for this post to prevent the misuse of the paper. I am more than happy to provide interested scholars with a copy.

In 1791, the Miami Indians of Ohio handed the United States its worst military defeat ever. Three years later, the Indians would learn the hard way about revenge. These two events, Gen. Arthur St. Clair’s defeat in 1791 and Gen. Anthony Wayne’s resounding victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, raise many questions. What made these two battles have such different outcomes? What evidence exists from accounts of travelers years later? What can Americans learn from these events today? Both St. Clair’s defeat and the Battle of Fallen Timbers illustrate much about the early republic, how harsh lessons of warfare are taught through defeat, and that these lessons, when their mistakes are corrected lead to resounding success. The two events present an interesting story about the early history of our nation as well as relations with Native Americans at that time.

The frontier of the new United States was a wild and dangerous place in the late 18th century. New settlers to the Northwest Territory faced the prospect of Indian raids and the still present British forces stirring up the Indians and threatening war. Unfortunately, for Washington, settlers killing of peaceful Indians and raiding of Indian villages undermined the effort of conciliation by Washington’s administration and led to its failure. The United States faced challenges to their authority in the Old Northwest from persons like Joseph Brant, who encouraged fellow Indians to rise up and retake their lands. At this time, American governmental policy was to settle issues arising in the old Northwest with the Indians peacefully. George Washington and Henry Knox attempted to achieve peace through purchasing Indian land as opposed to conquering it through bloodshed. It was in this environment that Arthur St. Clair led his army to defeat while serving as the territorial governor. Estwick Evans, a traveler in the region in 1818, noted the site where the battle took place. He stated, “On the river Calumet, which enters the Wabash, stands fort Recovery, and just above this fort is the place of St. Clair’s defeat.” This account illustrates that this battle was so significant that even people years later noted it.

Leading up to the battle the frontier was in turmoil. Raiding expeditions by Indians were growing in frequency and a scout of St. Clair’s reported that many Indians in the region possessed “bad hearts.” As a result, Washington sent an expedition in 1790 under the command of Josiah Harmar to deal with the Indians, which consisted of poorly trained militia and others. Harmar met defeat, suffering around two hundred casualties. This defeat led to Washington authorizing the expedition led by St. Clair the next year. Things did not proceed well for St. Clair prior to the battle. Recruiting the army for the expedition was difficult and St. Clair described the army as being “collected from the streets . . . [as well as] from the stews and brothels of the cities.” Furthermore, many officers in the army had marginal experience fighting Indians. These issues ultimately led to the disastrous battle between St. Clair and the Indians.

What happened at the site described above by Evans was an event of unspeakable slaughter and horror. On November 4, 1791, Maj. Gen. St. Clair, having hoped “to establish a fort at the head of the Maumee River” became engaged near the Miami village named Kekionga against the Miami chief Little Turtle. Little Turtle, whose tribal name was Michikinikwa was one of the most respected and powerful chiefs in the region, which made him a formidable opponent for St. Clair’s force of around 1,400. Capt. Thomas Morris illustrated the power of the Miami in his account of the battle. Morris described the Miami as “the very people who have lately defeated the Americans in three different battles”. Shortly before daybreak, an Indian force of 1,040 warriors, composed of Shawnee, Miami, Delaware, as well as Ottawa, Chippewa, and various other tribes, encircled the American camp. The battle began when the Indians attacked the camp of a group of Kentucky militia approximately 270 strong, with a force of around 300. The Kentuckians fled in all directions and their pursuers eventually caught many of them. One of the militia, a man named Bradshaw, later recalled that upon being able to shake his pursuer, tripped him, and “drove [his] hunting knife through his throat, severing his jugular [vein]“. Another soldier described how a Captain Smith’s head smoked after he was scalped. The panicky militia left St. Clair’s army in a weakened state as the Indians attacked.

The main body of the American force, which consisted of much of the U.S. army as well as many camp followers, took positions in their rectangular encampment area of about 400 by 75 yards, which is why the militia was encamped in a separate area. With the militia in a retreat, St. Clair’s force now faced the full brunt of Little Turtle’s force. Thomas Irwin, a survivor of the battle later wrote that St. Clair and his other officers believed that the Indians “would not attack an army where there was so many [cannon] with them”. As the morning continued, St. Clair would begin to find out just how wrong his assumption was. Unfortunately, for St. Clair, his artillery was ineffective and made no dent in the Indian onslaught. The battle that ensued around St. Clair was one of the three that Capt. Morris referred to in his journal.

The battle began to wear away at St. Clair as he realized that the Indians were destroying his army. He ordered Col. William Oldham to lead a counter-attack similar to that of the Indians. Oldham reportedly told his commanding officer, “No, damn it, that’s suicide. I won’t do it”. St. Clair, shocked at this act of insubordination, responded to Oldham saying, “You’ll do it, Colonel, or by Christ I will run you through”. Right after this exchange, a ball tore off the back of Oldham’s skull and he fell forward dead in front of a stone-faced St. Clair. St. Clair attempted to rally his men, raising his sword and leading Oldham’s men in a bayonet charge against the enemy’s left flank. He repulsed the Indians briefly, however his men dropped so quickly that after three attempts too few men were available to mount a fourth charge. The troops discarded their equipment and fled to Fort Jefferson almost thirty miles south, which saved the army from suffering a “frontier Cannae.” The traveler Francois André Michaux later mentioned an officer who fell in the battle, Maj. Gen. Hart. He stated that, “This officer, of the most distinguished merit, fell in the famous battle that General St. Clair lost in 1791, near Lake [Erie], against the united savages”.

The result of Little Turtle’s attack was frightful. According to the above account, “The battle raged for three hours with the carnage among the Americans about twenty times that among the Indians”. The cost to the Americans:

. . . totaled 914, including 630 dead and 184 wounded. In addition, almost half of the estimated 200 camp followers, made up of wives, children, and prostitutes, were killed. Fewer than 500 of the 1,400 soldiers escaped with a whole skin.

Clearly, Little Turtle had handed the Americans not only a horrible strategic defeat, but a psychological one as well. Of the American dead, 37 were officers, compared to an estimated 151 Indians killed. How Little Turtle’s forces defeated the Americans so soundly lies in their style of fighting as well as some interesting allies.

The Indians enjoyed a system of organization that would be advantageous to them as they fell upon the Americans. The Indians had put aside all of their differences and formed a tribal alliance, in which all tribes were enthusiastic in their roles in defeating the whites. One of the successes in this alliance was the presence of an overall leader in Little Turtle. In addition to Little Turtle, the warrior Tecumseh played a role prior to the battle as a scout, though he did not take part in the actual battle. In addition to Tecumseh, Little Turtle also had a white man on his side at the battle. William Wells, Little Turtle’s son-in-law, was captured years earlier at age 13 and had since fought alongside his adopted people with bravery. Wells also played a role at Fallen Timbers, which will be discussed later.

Another advantage that Little Turtle’s force possessed was in tactics. According to an account from the battle, the Indians “concentrated their shots on the active officers whom they could easily distinguish”. The account continued, mentioning that “General St. Clair had six bullet holes in his clothing but was not wounded.”, however “General Butler was killed”. The Indians were able to use advantages that favored them and would ultimately win the day. However, this incredible victory would be short lived, as the Indians would eventually face a revitalized American army under a new, tougher commander, “Mad” Anthony Wayne.

After the disastrous defeat of St. Clair’s army, the United States faced the threat of Indians with a much smaller army since many had been killed or wounded in the battle. The defeat spread panic across the frontier as far away as Pittsburgh, but fortunately, for the United States, the Indians did not follow-up on their victory. One of the consequences for the young republic that resulted from this defeat was the first Congressional investigation under the federal Constitution. St. Clair wished to resign his commission and retire while keeping his generalship. However, President Washington decided not to allow this. The investigating committee did not directly criticize St. Clair; however, they found one key area that may have contributed to the defeat. The committee noted,

. . . that the 2,300 men gathered at Fort Washington were reduced to 1,700 “fit for duty” by the time the army began the last leg of its journey on October 24; and that their numbers were further reduced to 1,400 on October 31 when “about sixty of the Kentucky militia deserted in a body and the first regiment [of regulars] was detached with a view to cover a convoy of provision . . .

In the end, St. Clair resigned his commission on April 7, 1792 and Anthony Wayne, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, took command. The stage was set for Wayne to enact revenge on the Indians.

Wayne, an experienced Indian fighter, drove the ideas of “tactics, training, and discipline” into his new “Legion of the United States”. The Legion consisted of four “sub-legions”, which consisted of two battalions of infantry, one battalion of riflemen, a troop of dragoons (cavalry that fought both mounted and dismounted), and an artillery company. This organization placed the combined arms under one command, with each sub-legion commanded by a brigadier general. By the autumn of 1793, Wayne was ready and pushed northward. However, a lack of supplies forced Wayne to halt his push and his army encamped at Greenville, where he continued to train his men. By the summer of 1794, Wayne’s army was ready to move. In addition to the training, Wayne gained an important ally. William Wells, the adopted white son-in-law of Little Turtle was negotiating on behalf of the Indians in 1792 at Vincennes. While at the meeting, Wells reunited with his brother, who convinced Wells to return to Kentucky where Wells joined the army as a scout. Wayne was ready for a fight, and having made no contact with the enemy on the eve of the battle, he set his men to the task of constructing a camp, which they named Camp Deposit. Little Turtle was confident that he could defeat Wayne and make him “walk in a bloody path”. Little Turtle had every reason to be confident, having defeated St. Clair’s poorly trained army three years earlier; however, Wayne was not St. Clair and Little Turtle would learn that the hard way.

The “confederated” Indian tribes moved into position on August 18, having fasted in order to make stomach wounds less severe. However, they did not meet the enemy, soon grew weak from hunger and thirst, and dwindled in numbers until only around 500 remained to meet 1,000 Americans. In addition, a sever thunderstorm on August 19 forced many Indians to leave the area to seek shelter at their camp near Fort Miami, a British fort. Among those who remained were Tecumseh and his Shawnee warriors. According to the journal of William Clark, of future Lewis and Clark fame, the battle on August 20 began with, “a [shower] of Rain [which] prevented our move at the [hour] appointed”. Clark further noted that by seven that morning the army had formed “Line of March” and was experiencing difficulties as they faced thick woods on their left and “a number of [steep ravines]” on the right. Clark added that after two hours that the advance guard of the army spotted the enemy and took fire. It was Tecumseh and his fellow Shawnee who ambushed the advance guard, but soon fell back as they realized that the advance guard was part of a much different, better-disciplined army. The battle that would go down in history as the Battle of Fallen Timbers had begun.

After the initial encounter with the Indians, the advance guard retreated to the main body of the army. The right flank of the army, led by Gen. Wilkinson, upon taking enemy fire, immediately “formed [and] returned fire”. A combined infantry and mounted charge, in which Capt. Campbell, the leader of the mounted troops was killed, forced the Indians to quit the field. The Indians attempted to attack the left flank, but were repulsed. A cavalry charge drove the enemy back about three-quarters of a mile, and the army replenished itself with whiskey, pushed the enemy from the field, and then advanced to within one mile of a British garrison. Having accomplished this, the army then made camp near the British garrison.

Wayne’s resounding victory did not come without a price. What Gen. Wilkinson described as “a mere skirmish” cost the Legion 133 men, of these 33 were dead including two officers. According to the journal of Clark, the two officers were Capt. Campbell and Lt. Towles, and the number of American dead was 240, compared to 30 to 40 enemy dead out of a force of 900 Indians and 150 Canadians. Clark’s figures may be in dispute, due to different figures appearing in other sources. However, Clark was at the battle, but the problems with Clark’s figures are that they appear to make the victory hollow due to difference in number of lives lost on both sides. One thing that remains constant is that Wayne had achieved an incredible victory over the Indians.

In the aftermath of the victory, the Indians were in a panic. The British commander noted with disgust that the Indians “behaved excessive ill . . . and afterwards fled in every direction”. He further added that “their panic was so great that the appearance of fifty Americans would have totally routed them” Another British officer, Lt. Col. England, noted, “that the confederated tribes no longer could be relied on for the primary defense of the Detroit region”. These observations illustrate the magnitude of Wayne’s victory.

For days after the battle, Wayne remained near the British outpost, Fort Miami. They burned villages and crops of their recently defeated foes. This was in an effort to draw the British force at Fort Miami out to fight. Wayne realized that the British commander, Major Campbell, intended to hold the post and remain inside in defiance of Wayne’s blustering and displaying his army in front of the fort. Wayne did not want the blame for starting a war between the U.S. and Britain, and, realizing that his tactics did not affect the British, soon withdrew his army to focus on destroying the Indian resistance.

Travelers to the region years later noted both battles and even met with people who served at Fallen Timbers and fortunately, their experiences remain. George W. Ogden passed through the areas of Greenville and Fort Recovery, and noted, “just above this fort is the memorable place of St. Clair’s defeat”. Francois André Michaux noted that the army marched against the Indians in defense of settlers and that the repulsion of the Indians, culminated in Wayne’s victory at Fallen Timbers. Estwick Evans mentioned a meeting with a Col. P. who was “an officer under General Wayne, during his famous expedition against the [Indians]“. Tilly Buttrick traveled in the lower Sandusky, which was known to be “an important Wyandot village” prior to Fallen Timbers. Buttrick pressed on to Greenville, where Wayne built a fort and established his headquarters after the battle. Edward Flagg mentioned having met with a pioneer who had hunted “where Boone, and Whitley, and Kenton once roved”. The man named Kenton that Flagg refers to is Simon Kenton who served with the army during Wayne’s campaign. These travelers knew of the events surrounding the places they visited and met with many people along the way who had taken part in them, thus making the stories of their travels more interesting and valuable to historians today.

While St. Clair forced a congressional investigation, Wayne forced a peace. Having defeated the Indians and establishing his base at Greenville, in 1795, Wayne prepared to make peace with the Indians. Major Thomas Hunt, commander of Fort Defiance, reported to Wayne the conditions of the Indians. He stated that, “The poor devils were almost starving to death before they got here”. Timothy Pickering, the negotiator, wanted the treaty to hand over more territory to the United States. Wayne was allocated $25,000 in various goods, which included hats, blankets, knives, axes, wine, and liquor. On July 15, 1795, Wayne began the council, stating, “Younger brothers, . . . I take you all by the hand” and “Rest assured of a sincere welcome . . . from your friend and brother Anthony Wayne”. Using the Treaty of Paris (1783) and the Fort Harmar Treaty, Wayne justified the Americans right to the Indian lands. While Little Turtle argued that the Americans were taking the best Indian lands, many chiefs accepted the treaty and the council closed on August 10 with Little Turtle swearing allegiance to the United States on August 12. With the signing of the Treaty of Greenville, the war between the United States and the Northwest Indians was over.

St. Clair’s defeat and the Battle of Fallen Timbers illustrate both the weakness of and strength of the new republic. St. Clair’s bungled campaign led to the worst military defeat at the hands of the Indians for the army. Even though he should have been able to use his superior numbers to crush the Indians, his cockiness and coldness would be his downfall. On the other hand, Little Turtle, fresh from this victory would view the American army with contempt and thus would meet his own defeat at the hands of a much more experienced Indian fighter and general, Anthony Wayne. These two events shaped the history of the new nation, with St. Clair’s defeat bringing about the first congressional investigation in the history of the constitutional system. Wayne’s victory would eventually allow for the creation of a new state, Ohio and ensured that the United States controlled the northwest. Travelers observed these events in their accounts years later, illustrating the impact that these battles had on history. The mistakes St. Clair made led to the United States reexamining its strategy against the Indians. Wayne learned from St. Clair’s undisciplined army by instilling strong discipline in his Legion. He also utilized his army better than St. Clair, with his troops regrouping and returning fire instead of breaking as St. Clair’s army did. In addition, Wayne waited until his enemy was weak in contrast to St. Clair’s cockiness, which caused St. Clair to be surprised. In contrast, Little Turtle and his forces did not learn from their victory and underestimated the resolve of their enemy, which would lead to their defeat and loss of their land. These two events are important illustrations for both early American history and the history of Native Americans as well.

A late, great colonial historian worth reading

Every now and then, an author comes around that is worth reading, even after death.  Howard Peckham is that author.  Peckham, who died in 1995 served as both a history professor at the University of Michigan and director of the Clements Library from 1953-1977.  He wrote numerous articles and several books during his life.  His most well-known book was Pontiac and the Indian Uprising (1948), which explored the famous Indian rebellion of 1763 led by Pontiac, in which he placed Pontiac in the context of a local leader within a greater anti-English movement by the Native Americans. 

Another well-known work by Peckham is The Colonial Wars, 1689-1763 (1964).  This book chronicles the history of the series of wars between the English and French, and their respective colonists in North America, as well as the Native Americans.  This work, though dated, is well worth reading in order to begin understanding much of the period covered by this site.  If one desires great reads by an accomplished historian, then consider reading Howard Peckham.